8 Rules for Driving Innovation


The global cellphone market is huge with many different players, but when I read this recently, it really caught my eye:

Apple and Blackberry’s Research In Motion accounted for only 3% of all cellphones sold in the world last year but 35%of operating profits.

It was a reminder of how innovation can really pay-off for a company.  This is why so many CEOs cite innovation as a key strategy, and so many companies include innovation as a cultural value.

Innovation is largely regarded as one of the last sources of competitive advantage in the global economy, especially for companies in the developed world.  In a 2006 IBM Global Study  on Innovation, Klaus Kleinfeld, President and CEO of Siemens AG said:

You can only win the ‘war’ with ideas, not with spending cuts.

I think his words are even more relevant today.  As a leadership development professional, how do we foster innovation?  How do we make innovation a central tenet of our employee culture?  How do we develop innovation skills in our workforce?

One myth that needs to be debunked is that of the mad-scientist working alone in the laboratory where a flash of insight leads to the next great innovation.   Most innovation happens at the ground level of an organization, close to the customer, not at the top or in some research lab.  Great ideas do not come to people in a flash of brilliance, rather they come into the world as “bad” ideas, or what you might call “not full formed.”  And the entire process of growing “bad” ideas into great ideas and then transforming them into actual innovation requires a team of cross-functional people.

It turns out there is a clear set of observable behaviors exhibited by successful innovators that allow them to drive innovation within a team or organization.  These behaviors were originally discovered by A. J. Chopra, author of Managing the People Side of Innovation.  Chopra observed and videotaped hundreds of hours of meetings, conversations and brain-storming sessions as he followed around successful innovators.   He condensed the traits of maverick innovators into 8 Rules for Engaging Minds and Hearts:

  1. Grow ideas, don’t mow them down.
  2. Manage the ego agenda, don’t let it run the show
  3. Practice the art of Hands-on Listening
  4. Go Upstream…if you want people to change their course
  5. Expose your ideas to criticism before they are fully grown
  6. Involve people, but keep them off your decision turf
  7. Acknowledge contributions to your thinking
  8. Invite ideas only when you’re open to them

Source: Managing the People Side of Innovation (A. J. Chopra)

A. J. Chopra and I recently took these 8 Rules a step further and broke them down into 47 Innovation Practices.  We then converted these Innovation Practices into a 360-assessment.  So much of innovation is about how leaders interact with ideas and with other people, so it is critical for leaders to understand how they are perceived by others when it comes to fostering innovation.  Are they open to the ideas of others?  Do they really listen to the people who work for them?  By giving leaders feedback at the behavioral level and providing them with actionable recommendations for improvement, you can grow a culture of innovation at your company.

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