Innovation doesn’t require genius, luck, or magic–but it does require talking to the right people, being able to clearly articulate a vision, and putting the right partnerships in place.
I first read Peter Senges book, The Fifth Discipline: the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, in the mid 1990s. At the time I was working on the fledgling team behind a new initiative at the World Bank called “knowledge management,” which would later help earn the organization recognition as one of the Worlds Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises.
I had never heard of Senge and was impressed by his approach. I shared the book with my boss, who said to me, Why read when we can talk to the author? Within a couple of weeks we were in sitting in Senges office in Cambridge discussing our organization’s plans in detail. This is the first secret of great innovation leaders: Talk to the right people. In addition, to get innovation right, leaders must clearly articulate the way forward and build informal partnerships that generate synergy.
Secret #1. Talk to the Right People
Your most important asset is your mind. Your experience, expertise, and know-how governs your understanding of what is possible, the options you see, the strategy you formulate, and your assessments of the environment around you. To expand your vision, meet with other minds! Make it a habit to identify and visit the people who will provide you with fresh ideas, key learning, new tactics, and strong strategies.
My World Bank groups ability to quickly meet and learn from Senge greatly accelerated our success. We experienced significant gains in the year ahead and received international recognition for our program. Part of our triumph was due to finding and meeting with the people who could draw us into substantive conversations that expanded our thinking, provided valuable insights, and uncovered solutions to problems we were facing.
Secret #2. Articulate the Way Forward
People rely on their leaders to craft a vision of the future that makes sense and can guide their everyday decisions. Most of the leaders I have met improvise this activity and many do it badly. And yet articulating a rousing vision of the future isnt difficult. It can be your secret super-power, if you just master three tactics:
Communication is a crucial step toward coherent action. By clearly and repeatedly taking the time to spell out what you are trying to do you will build a base of informed actors to help you innovate.
Secret #3. Build Informal Partnerships that Generate Synergy
Leadership today is largely about identifying the partnerships that will lead to broad, powerful impact and growth. Let me be clear–Im talking about supportive and symbiotic relationships here, not contractual business partnerships. There is a tremendous amount that can be done on the basis of mutual interest alone.
Too many leaders shy away from informal partnerships, fearing the vulnerability that comes with relationships. If you overcome that fear, you get the benefits. Here are tips to help you master the third secret of innovation leaders:
· Make it your job to keep everyone happy with the results of your informal partnerships. Youll reap the rewards together.
Math: 1+1+1 = A Lot
These three tasks required of innovative leaders–talking to the right people, articulating the way forward, and building informal partnerships–work together. The interaction of these contributions produces a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual components. Together they ensure your leadership is well informed, a source of unambiguous guidance, and reinforced by powerful allies.
Thats a healthy platform for continuous innovation.
More info and published in Fast Company