Innovate - in tough and good times

Innovation is a messy process – hard to measure and hard to manage. Most people recognise it only when it generates a surge in growth.

When revenues and earnings decline during a recession, business owners often conclude that their innovation efforts just aren’t worth it.

Maybe innovation isn’t so important after all, they think. Maybe our teams have lost their touch. Better to focus on the tried and true than to waste money on untested ideas.

The contrary view, of course, is that innovation is both a vaccine against market slowdowns and an elixir that rejuvenates growth.

Imagine how much worse off Apple would be had it not created the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad.

Too few businesses have creative, right-brain types in leadership positions. That leaves innovation especially vulnerable to unwise cost cutting during hard times.

Decisions about slashing versus retaining projects are made by analytic, leftbrain leaders unsuited to evaluating innovation portfolios.

The fashion industry is worth emulating:

  • Its businesses are “both-brain,” run by pairs of powerful executives with complementary – creative and analytic – styles.
  • They are structured to support leftbrain – right-brain partnerships; hiring at all levels seeks a mix of cognitive styles.
  • Innovation becomes a way of business life, not a marginal activity.

Both-brain pairs have been found elsewhere in the past: Apple CEO Steve Jobs (RIP) and the then COO Tim Cook; Procter & Gamble’s chief of global design, Claudia Kotchka, and CEO A.G. Lafley; high-tech engineer Bill Hewlett and business leader David Packard.

Such partnerships could help innovation thrive in your business.

In practice

Traditional left-brain-dominant business leaders typically can’t tell the difference between good and bad innovations.

Nor do they appreciate the skills needed to build and sustain a culture of creativity and constant reinvention.

A leadership duo that unites right-brain creative skills and left-brain management skills offers the best way of ingraining innovation in a business, making it valued in all economic climates.

Harvard Business Review (2009) studied a number of creative-commercial partnerships, both successful and unsuccessful, and identified seven characteristics common to success:

    1. Awareness of strengths and weaknesses. Partners realistically assess what they do well and where they need help. They often joke openly about their own shortcomings to help others see the value of partnership.
    2. Complementary cognitive skills. Partners seek those who balance their own working styles and decision-making approaches. They learn to draw on each other’s capabilities to the proper degree and at the right times.
    3. Trust. Partners trust each other and are willing to put each other’s interests ahead of their own.
    4. Raw intelligence. Partners bring insightful observations and good judgment to the team’s decisions.
    5. Relevant knowledge. Partners bring experience that applies directly to the challenges they face.
    6. Strong communication channels. Partners speak to each other frequently and directly. They often work in the same or adjacent spaces.
    7. Motivation. Partners are highly committed to the success of the business and each other.

Share your thoughts

How do you manage innovation in your business? Do you share any of the characteristics listed above?

Share your thoughts with us by posting your comments below.

Last modified onThursday, 23 October 2014 05:46
More in this category: Creativity myths »

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