Friday, November 13, 2009

Thought leadership - Leading your business to innovate and succeed

Thought leadership - Leading your business to innovate and succeed
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple Computers Inc.

Thought LeadershipTraditionally leaders define and set course for change to happen. Generally if you go high enough the decisions boil down to one person, the leader. We know leaders have certain characteristics courage, commitment, vision and so forth, but as the business world grows more mature, there is an added focus on ‘thought leadership’. Leaders today need to be futuristic, forward moving, courageous and focus on innovation.Today our workforce is more specialized, better equipped and more trained than ever before. Twenty years ago an employee may have just been hired to complete their ‘to do’ list and be done. Today professional services firms, consumer goods companies, banks, and any other sector you can name pays their people to do one very private function ... to think!Leaders must not form a team of blind sighted followers but an intelligent, evolving team of leaders, who have the freedom to think beyond now. After all, we all are leaders ….we have at least one person to lead….our self.While leaders define the direction, those who follow also define the leader. The quality of people a leader is able to retain within their team has a direct impact on the quality of output produced. This is not just true for businesses, it is also true in governments, political campaigns and life in general.InnovationHell, there are no rules here-- we're trying to accomplish something. – Thomas Edison.This is the age of innovation, now that management has officially been named as one of the sciences, innovation too is fast moving from an abstract art to a defined science. Innovation and leadership go hand in hand. Without futuristic, forward thinking tone from the top, it’s hard for any business to innovate. Breaking free from their past often plagues’ otherwise usually successful businesses. In a flat world, keeping outside forces from influencing research and development is becoming increasingly difficult and detrimental to growth.More often than not, we still somehow try to fit everything we see in a box. Categorize it for the sake of remembering it, assigning it a label in our mind But what about the ideas and thoughts which haven’t been labeled yet?As services and products, and deliverables in general get more customized, there are very few rules which can not be challenged. There is very little room for that comfort statement that ‘it’s always been done this way’, that notion today, it’s unacceptable.Any thing that matters gets measured. So innovation too should be measured and is being measured at businesses worldwide. Jorma Ollila, non-executive chairman of both Nokia and Shell, argues that it is a mistake to measure innovation by the number of patents issued by a company or the extent to which new technologies are introduced. He suggests that most the most fertile area of innovation today can be found in management. One reason for that maybe that creating an idea is the easy part, the transformation to a real ‘thing’ is tough. As Thomas Edison put it, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.Google claims that its constantly reinventing itself and googler’s proudly say that ‘Google is an innovation engine, not just another search engine!’ the company grants its engineers with permission to spend 20% of their paid time on pet projects unrelated to their daily job.Open innovation has been talked about for decades. Professor Henry Chesborough, a business professor at the University of California laid out the very foundation of open innovation in his books ‘Open Business Models’ and ‘Open Innovation’. He argued that companies need to be open to change, no matter where it comes from. Large scale R&D labs may not be the answer for all innovation, companies need to think faster, and get all the help they can to get the answer right …very early on.P&G is a good example of a traditional company which for decades guarded its research and development activities carried out in CIA style secrecy, all the innovation came from within. No more. P&G now welcomes ideas from the outside and works on a profit sharing model for innovation, encouraging participation. In less than a decade P&G has increased the proportion of new-product ideas originating from outside of the firm from less than a fifth to around half, its bosses indicate that it has also grown at a 6% annual rate every year from 2001-2006., tripling annual profits to $8.6 billion.While all this is encouraging, argues Harold Sirkins in his book ‘Pay Back’ that firms are jumping on the innovation bandwagon and are in-turn creating a bottle neck of ideas. He suggests that its critical for companies to recognize and separate the ideas which may work from those which would not, very early on. Businesses will have to become efficient, and faster in recognizing the idea which is worth working on. The race has already begun.


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Stuff I have to say: The views expressed here are solely my own. My employer, clients, colleagues, neighbors, family, have got nothing to do with this….although I am thankful to them for putting up with me!