Tag Archives: step by step innovation

Best Leadership style for Innovation

A recent bit of research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in the Harvard Business Review looked at the types of leadership qualities most likely to spur employee engagement, or in other words which employees were the most happy/(or not) with their jobs. Generally, they grouped individual leaders as either Drivers or Enhancers. Specifically,

Drivers are very good at establishing high standards of excellence, getting people to stretch for goals that go beyond what they originally thought possible, keeping people focused on the highest priority goals and objectives, doing everything possible to achieve those goals, and continually improving.

Enhancers, by contrast, are very good at staying in touch with the issues and concerns of others, acting as role models, giving honest feedback in a helpful way, developing people, and maintaining trust.

They drew on research from nearly 150,000 interviews (with approximately 30,000 leaders). Not surprisingly, employees believed that the leaders who were the best enhancers were considered to be the best at engaging employees. However, after carefully reviewing the survey results, they discovered that the leaders who had the best employee engagement scored highly in BOTH areas–as drivers and enhancers.

From an innovation perspective, this fits neatly with much of what I’ve seen in many organizations.  Leaders in innovation must get people to focus and stretch on important goals, while acting as role models and providing feedback.  The Challenge methodology provides a framework for building and maintaining this structure and helps guide organizations to innovation success.

It Wasn’t Raining When Noah Built the Ark

noah_arkAnd so goes innovation.  It’s easy to dismiss it on a sunny day, but once the floods start, it’s too late.

Innovation is an underlying cultural strategy.  Because it requires the coordination of many different aspects, such as management, human resources, and work processes, the foundation must be established before results can be seen.

Low workplace motivation remains a clear and present danger to productivity in 2013, and according to multiple studies/articles/research, employee engagement continues to remain at very low levels.  Perhaps the fear of looming layoffs, being skipped over for a raise, seeing an important project cut due to budget constraints, or some other factor, has caused the disconnect.   The end result is that it is impacting innovation.

In order for innovation to work, these issues must be addressed continuously.  Think about this simple example.  An airline pilot trains repeatedly on flying an airplane when one or more of the engines are not operating.  They learn how the airplane handles, what the procedures are, and the best way to solve the problem.  In reality, most pilots will never have to face the issue.  But, when they do, solving this problem is second nature, because they have done it so many times before.  (Read about the Gimli Glider which is even more amazing the the landing on the Hudson.)

In order to build a culture of innovation, use this methodology to drive innovation from the top of the organization:

  1. Engage a key decision maker in your organization on the need to solve one of their pressing problems.
  2. Meet with experts and flesh out all of the details of the problem. Make sure that
    the statement is understandable and “visible”.
  3. Advertise your problem (and process) in company newsletters, web home pages, bulletin boards and meetings.
  4. Review and comment on submitted solutions.
  5. If you’ve been successful, then you should have no trouble finding and assigning accountability to the ideas that should be implemented.
  6. Award your submitters. To figure out the best motivators for your
    organization, answer the question: “What’s in it for me?”




Problem Based Learning and Innovation

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is fast becoming the preferred method of teaching students in medical-related fields, and I was struck by the similarity between PBL and innovation.  I had the opportunity to talk with Susan Hawkins (MSEd., PA-C) and Mark Hertweck (M.A., PA-C) of Chatham University about how their PBL program works and how it relates to innovation.

PBL was implemented in the late 1960s for use in the medical school program at McMaster University in Canada.  The approach was created to address the traditional medical school teaching methods which many perceived as being of little benefit in the practice of medicine.  Instead of teaching chapters from a book, and forcing lots of rote memorization, PBL was centered around “real-life” case studies in which a typical patient aliment was presented.  Students would work to solve the patient case–a more realistic scenario.

The consensus on PBL is that compared with traditional teaching methods, it’s more effective, and students are more likely to come away better prepared for the rigors of their profession.  The traditional learning method is very similar to the way innovation has been addressed for decades.  Groups would get together to brainstorm ideas around a wide topic, such as, “How to increase sales revenue.”  The ideas were vaguely directed at the goal, but were oftentimes so unrelated or outlandish that it was difficult to see the value to the organization.  Learning, like innovation, is much harder without a goal.

From an innovation perspective, the most interesting facet is that students in PBL start with a problem.  Specifically, a real world problem–exactly the kind of situation facing many organizations and their innovation programs.  Challenges, like PBL cases, are focused problem statements that are important to the organization.  A challenge should be important to the organization, and it should have real benefits to being solved.  This is similar to a PBL case in which the patient and his/her ailment are important (potentially life-threatening) with the benefit being a cure/treatment.

Problem-Based Learning is just another example of how the innovation challenge paradigm is being employed in other disciplines for similar improvements and value-add.  So, when you begin to think about organizational innovation, consider including some of the elements of both challenges and problem based learning, such as focusing on an important problem, encouraging collaboration, using a transparent evaluation process, and providing rewards–it really works!

Comparison of Innovation Challenges and Problem Based Learning:

Innovation Challenge PBL Case
Presentation Focused challenge that the organization is facing Patient with a complaint/ailment
Time Limit Set by Organization, typically 3-5 days Set by School, typically several days
Support Management/Executives Facilitator
Rewards Recognition, Promotion, Money Recognition, Good Grade
Evaluation According to analytics determined by organization, usually based on ROI According to specifics of patient presentation, usually based on correctly identifying and treating problem

Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.–Karl Popper

People with Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones

The old adage that “people with glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” suggests that not everyone is perfect, and that before you criticize your neighbor for doing something foolish, you should think about whether you have acted similarly.

Did you ever go to a restaurant and watch parents try to manage a group of rowdy kids?  They’re making noise, throwing food, and causing a general raucous.  I know more than once I’ve rolled my eyes and thought how I would easily be able to control “those kids!”  But, unfortunately, I’ve been that parent trying to control my own children during a particularly rough day.  It’s easy–from a distance–to see the solution, “I’d just sit those kids right down and tell them that if they didn’t behave themselves, I’d….”  In many cases, you’d probably be right.  The farther we are from the problem/situation, the easier it becomes to find a solution.

A recent article by Psychologist Yaacov Trope posits that the further we move in distance from the issue we are trying to solve, the better our thinking/creativity and decision-making become.  And distance is not just physical.   It can be imagining yourself either at a future point or historical point in time, looking from a different dimension (up/down, left/right), the distance between two people in terms of social connections (my best friend versus an acquaintance), or even hypothetical, such as what might have happened.

The article suggests that the farther we move from the issue, the more general and abstract our perspective becomes and we are able to consider solutions from a wider angle.  Conversely, the closer we are to the problem, the more concrete and practical our thinking becomes.  Think about how easy it is to solve other people’s problems, and you’ll understand exactly what the article is getting at.

This is one of the principles of innovation as well.  People often think that they should only challenge engineers with technical problems, and only marketing people with sales problems.   Using these principles in the article, and based on many years of experience, I can tell you, that you should definitely open up your problems to a wider audience.  You’ll be drawing on different experience/knowledge bases, but you’ll also be creating distance–they key to problem solving.