Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Leading innovation.

“When you think about a creative organization, whether it’s advertising or artists, a scientific institute, universities or baseball teams, what we want are the stars. And the stars know how to play their positions better than I do. I have to support them and help them be creative.” – William Brody, the newly announced president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

CEOs who really shine are those who change the face of their industry by introducing innovation. They’re strategic visionaries and thought leaders who have a broad perspective and the confidence to take bold steps. They can look at a wide range of opportunities and then ask, “Which of these opportunities fits our company and what we’re good at?”

Visionary leaders provide a psychological focal point for people’s energies, hopes, and aspirations. They serve as forceful role models and set a standard of behavior to which others can aspire. Senior teams are powerful signal generators in an organization; they extend and institutionalize the leadership and management of innovation and change. The senior team must be cohesive, yet embrace diversity among its own members. It must be able to anticipate significant external events as well as internal developments across the organization, and be able to determine when proactive change is called for.

An effective way to extend the reach of the senior team is to include a broader set of individuals who make up the upper management of the company, including individuals several levels down from the executive team. Driving the leadership of innovation and change down into the firm in this way brings two advantages:

- it ensures that all senior managers have a shared strategic perspective, not a parochial or functional view of the organization,

- it develops and tracks a pool of talent that will be able to lead the organization of the future.

As companies mature, operations eventually tends to dominate. So, product development and idea generation gets treated in the same cultural mode as operations. Most companies become dramatically less innovative as they mature because they don't have the tolerance to support two quite different cultures under the same roof. They pay lip service to the innovative part of the culture as it’s gradually being squeezed out.

One solution is to organize the new separately from the old. Running the existing business always requires considerable time and effort from those responsible for it. Since the new always looks so small compared to what already exists, it tends to get neglected. Existing units invariably concentrate on adapting and extending what’s already there. It’s a mistake to make innovation an objective for people who are also responsible for running the current business. Somebody quite high up in top management must champion and support new innovations. Companies who are introducing more than one new innovative project at a time can have them all report to this senior manager.

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