The pounding that Goldman Sachs took at the very public hand of departing executive Greg Smith is exceeded only by the beating Smith took from Bloomberg, but Bloomber's readers (thankfully) aren't buying it...
The ability to see things through your customers’ eyes is definitely not something everyone can do. Some, like Steve Jobs, have been quite good at it. Others, like Netflix, completely missed the mark. How well do you really understand and empathize with your customers? How do you know?
Expertise in the field of innovation, like any other expertise, can frequently become a hindrance to further progress. We get comfortable with what we know, what’s worked for us in the past, secure in the knowledge that has already brought us success—along with personal status and influence and income.
What’s your personal theory of knowledge? Is it something that gives you answers or possibilities? Of course, the short answer is, “Yes.” But if you had to choose, if you had to state a preference, I suspect you could, and for many it would be: answers. Not that most of us have given this a great deal of thought. It’s what’s known as an implicit theory, a largely subconscious belief, but one that nonetheless impacts how we think and behave—and how well we innovate.
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.
Being willing to fail, to be wrong, is one of the key characteristics of an innovator. You don’t have to like failure, and you certainly don’t want to go looking for it. But you have to be willing to accept it and move on in order to find the rare gems you’re seeking.
Many of us are not well positioned to gain fresh insights and make new discoveries. We’re not in the right mindset and as Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” So even when we’ve made all the other choices that set us up to innovate, we still have a gap.
We need to stop stopping ourselves. We’ve been conditioned to suppress our creative impulses and with them our capacity to innovate. When the world was stable and predictable, this may have been adaptive. But none of us lives in that world anymore. We live in a much more dynamic place where we need to constantly learn and unlearn and relearn...
Innovative leadership is about being someone who has made this mental shift. It also means giving others the latitude and encouragement they need to do the same. The payoff is an organizational shift away from resistance to change and the tendency to just hunker down, to a much more engaged sense of, “I’m ready world, give me your best shot.”