Leading Your Team into the Unknown
• Nathan Furr
• Jeffrey H. Dyer
December 2014 Issue of HBR
I think this is a good summary of what leaders have to do to drive innovation:
Don’t Dictate a Vision—Set a Grand Challenge
Innovation is at heart a process of discovery, and so the role of the person leading it is to set other people down a path, not to short-circuit it by jumping to a conclusion right at the start. To lead innovation, you don’t have to be the next Steve Jobs, nor do you need to guess the future. Rather, you must carve out the mental space within which the innovation process can be carried out.
Don’t Make Decisions—Design Experiments
The innovator’s method reduces the risk involved in bringing innovations to market by offering a better tool for making tough choices—a process for systematically testing critical assumptions with customers. The tool has powerful implications for leadership: It requires the leader to change from being the chief decision maker to being the chief experimenter.
What does that mean? Essentially, the leader’s role shifts from providing answers to posing questions. When a manager or anyone else on the team says, “I think we should do X,” it’s the leader’s job to ensure that the next question is, “What’s the fastest way to run an experiment to help us know whether we should do X?”
Don’t Just Ignite Ideas—Prepare the Organization to Accept Them
Educating the wider organization: It’s tempting to downplay the importance of something so basic as establishing a common language. But dozens of innovators we’ve interviewed have cited a common language as critical for communicating the logic of what they’re doing. That being said, there are elements of the language that appeal more than others to people with responsibility for core operations.
Building expertise: Many people have an innate desire to innovate, we’ve found. They just haven’t been given the opportunity and don’t know how to begin. To tap into their potential and build deep expertise, they need immersion in the innovation process.
Don’t Just Give People Time—Provide the Resources They Need to Act Quickly
Innovation requires devoted time blocks because the associational thinking that leads to new insights is more apt to happen when the mind is totally absorbed with a particular challenge, whether through observations, conversations, experiments, or meditation. You might be able to focus this way by devoting 30 or 40 minutes a day, but you’re more likely to do so by setting aside a half day a week. Devoting a day or two each month to innovation “jams” can be a particularly good way to help people use time effectively