The Number One Leadership Activity to Drive Innovation

post from Dr. Kumar Mehta:

Every leader wants to
consistently create mind-blowing products and offerings that customers love and
line up for.  They know that if they
don’t innovate, they will be left behind, the world’s simply moving way too
fast.  They are looking to
institutionalize the innovation process. 
This means building a culture where innovation happens every day.  It means creating an environment where
innovation is not the domain of a select few individuals, rather every single
person believes they can contribute to creating great products.  It means pushing the boundaries in everything
you do.  It means a relentless focus on
altering customer experiences in meaningful ways.

As a leader you can
institutionalize innovation in your organization by creating an innovation biome, or a sustained
environment where innovating becomes a habit. 
Creating the innovation biome,
however, requires all elements (teams, departments, priorities, etc) residing
within your organization to act in concert and support each other. If your
corporation seeks to alter its genetic code and transform itself into an
innovative juggernaut, then it needs to operate with an exceptionally high
degree of conviction and shared belief that innovation is a priority.  This is the number one factor that drives
organization-wide innovation.

This starts with
leadership.  You cannot tiptoe your way
into innovation. You simply have to commit to your direction and share your
conviction and vision with all related stakeholders, including employees,
shareholders, customers, and partners. And everyone around you needs to share
in that belief.

Shared belief has incredible
power, probably more so than any other factor that drives change. Shared belief
in a vision provides everyone involved with the confidence to go all-in and
help make the vision a reality. Any ambiguity or second-guessing makes the
already challenging task of moving a company in a new direction a lot harder.

Take for example Moore’s Law
(the belief that chip capacity would continue to increase exponentially).  While this wasn’t a scientific law, it was a
shared belief that has driven the forward progress of the computer industry for
decades.  Or take for instance the shared
belief inspired by President Kennedy as he boldly stated a vision and
commitment to put humans on the moon and return them safely to earth.  A vision that was realized because everyone involved
shared in the belief. 

Or learn from Apple’s example,
when it launched the iPhone with a degree of commitment and conviction that
made irrelevant one of the most desirable products of the time, its own iPod.  There was nothing wishy-washy about the
launch of the iPhone, no “minimally
viable product
,” no “let’s wait and see how it does.”  It was full commitment from the leadership of
the organization.  The company went
all-in, knowing full well that they were risking the sexiest product of the
time with an untested device. 

The more you believe in a
vision, the more likely you are to achieve it and, in turn, make the belief
real. Belief motivates people to take the necessary actions to make a vision
come true, creating an upward cycle.

For the better part of the
past decade, most people have considered Apple to be the most innovative company
in the world. This is not because Apple kept proclaiming it was innovative; it
is because it kept churning out one game-changing product after another. Now,
everyone expects Apple to produce nothing short of breathtaking innovation.
This shared expectation results in exactly that—breakthrough innovations. The
perfect upward spiral. The belief is shared by everyone: Apple’s customers,
employees, shareholders, partners, and even competitors.

The first step to creating an innovation biome is to make it clear,
through words and actions, that innovation is a priority. Making innovation a
shared belief requires actions that go far beyond appointing an innovation czar
or developing an innovation dashboard. It requires thinking about innovation in
everything you do. It requires not accepting mediocrity and ensuring that every
offering, big or small, enhances a customer experience journey in a meaningful

Dr. Kumar Mehta, author of THE INNOVATION BIOME, has been
at the forefront of innovation, research, and data analytics for over 25
years.  He founded Bridges Insight, an
innovation think tank committed to researching innovation and helping
organizations accelerate their rate of innovation. He has applied many
innovation frameworks in his fourteen years at Microsoft and throughout his
tenure building out innovative companies. 
Mehta also serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the
Digital Future at the University of Southern California and serves on the board
of The Committee for Children. For more information, please visit