Under Steve Jobs, Apple became what by almost all accounts has been the most successfully innovative company in the world. Now Apple faces what may be an even more daunting challenge: continuing with that innovation success without Steve Jobs. Isn’t that innovation’s Holy Grail? Isn’t that what the whole field of innovation is trying to figure out: how to build an organization that can produce the kind of success of an Apple…without having a world class genius at the helm? I have some hunches as to how...
In his acclaimed bestseller, Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about what he calls the “Flywheel Effect.” He describes how small actions and decisions, made over a period of time, add up to sustained momentum and success for great companies—like small nudges building momentum on a flywheel. I agree and riffing on his metaphor, I would add that our flywheel can be turning in either direction. It’s possible that a series of seemingly small decisions and incremental actions can gradually undermine our success. So the key question becomes: Which direction is your flywheel turning?
There’s always a risk, when floating any innovative idea, that it will crash against the rocky shores of personal fiefdoms, entrenched power bases and cronyism, both public and private. The often intense resistance to anything that might require real change often comes down to the same silent refrain: I’ve got mine. Don’t mess with it. It’s a stance that can stop innovation dead in its tracks. There may be no better example of how not to innovate than the current state of American politics.
People in the wrong frame of mind can undermine even the most thoughtfully designed innovation processes. Folks in the right frame of mind can overcome many imperfections in those processes. Systems and processes are important in business, but they’re no substitute for enhancing the way people think.
Mindset may the most overlooked strategic issue in business today. Getting yourself and your people into the right frame of mind is becoming a crucial determinant of competitiveness, thanks to two huge business trends.
Just as we were all born explorers and experimenters, the same is true of new ventures. The challenge is less about introducing entirely new attitudes than about finding ways to restore those things that created success in the first place. It’s about getting out of our own way.
Accomplished innovators routinely choose their imagination over their knowledge. They recognize, as Einstein did, that knowledge is limited—and limiting—and they don’t want to be caught unprepared for the inevitable changes and surprises they know they will encounter. They exercise their imagination like an athlete exercises muscles, not because it’s always needed, but because without exercise it won’t be ready to perform at those crucial times when it is needed.
Are you always on the lookout for new innovation and leadership tools? Do you go to conferences looking for the latest techniques to adopt? If you do, you’re in good company but in your search for tools you may be overlooking something much more powerful: behaviors.
No, performance is not what it’s all about. In fact, it’s possible to put too much emphasis on performance…and as a result undermine your business objectives. That’s right, I said “undermine”. Now, before you decide that I’m some sort of heretic…or just came unhinged, hear me out. You may find that you agree with me.
A healthy innovation culture not only promotes creativity and execution, it’s one in which a strong sense of reality permeates the place. Successful innovation isn’t about denying reality or shading the truth; it’s about finding real solutions to real problems. Integrity is its foundation.