How do leaders encourage corporate teams and individual employees to go above and beyond? How do they shift away from simply "improving" current products and services to empower true innovation? Here's the secret: Big goals demand business game-changers, and being willing to embrace the power of innovative leadership is a good place to start. But what does that really mean? What are the key qualities of strong leaders, and how do they translate into better business outcomes?
The Problem Prescription
Ground-breaking organizations solve problems, right? They discover new ways to address existing issues or challenge the status quo and then implement them before the competition can catch up — isn't that why companies like Apple and Tesla succeed? Not quite.
Here's why — innovation doesn't come from "solving" the problem. It comes from understanding the fundamental issue. Raj Uttamchandani, VP of Information Technology for ADP, puts it simply. "Innovation comes down to taking a look at the problem from the problem's perspective, understanding the problem at the deepest possible level and understanding why people are having that problem," he says. In effect, this perspective changes the focus. Instead of prioritizing the solution as the ideal end goal, the problem itself becomes valuable because the more you understand it, the better your solution.
Understanding the Problem
And there's a deeper level here: Understanding the problem well enough to identify issues that consumers and stakeholders haven't yet articulated. Consider Apple. Before the release and subsequent popularity of its iPhone line, Nokia dominated the market. Why? Because they made phones to suit seemingly every lifestyle, every business use, every niche. And the phones followed a particular, familiar pattern of interaction that users understood. But phones weren't perfect — Apple's leadership dove into the problem and came up with a unique solution: What if phones were designed all wrong? The era of the intuitive smartphone was born, and the rest is history.
Innovative leaders are those willing to ask why — why can't things be done a new way? Why aren't current solutions "good enough"? As noted by Uttamchandani, potential lies with the problem you're trying to solve, not the solution — "innovation comes down to taking a look at the problem from the problem's perspective." Embrace it, understand it and look for new ways to tackle old questions or discover new questions that have never been asked.
Going For Broke
The biggest challenge for leaders? As noted by David Novak, former Yum Brands CEO, it's getting people engaged, reports CNBC. CNBC reports that leaders must "create a culture where everyone feels like they can make a difference." But how do leaders cultivate this kind of environment? According to Harvard Business School, it all comes down the courage — the ability for leaders to "take risks that go against the grain of their organizations." Instead of being focused on hitting their numbers or keeping the enterprise "safe," courageous leaders are willing to make bold decisions and challenge preconceptions, in turn freeing their teams to think outside the box and discover new solutions to complex problems.
The Value of Experience
As noted by Uttamchandani, innovative leaders gain this ability through experience — while it's possible to train leaders in this way of courageous thinking, it requires "more experiential learning than classroom learning." And the hard truth? This kind of courage sometimes leads to failure, but also comes with the potential to change the game. Uttamchandani points to Uber — not only can users order a car to their location with just a few taps of their smartphone, but they can see the vehicle arriving in real-time. The simplicity of the experience combined with the implicit trust achieved — the car will arrive on-time and safely get users to their destination — has changed the urban transportation landscape.
Strong, innovative leadership can help organizations solve complex problems. And while no two leaders are exactly alike, true game-changers share three key features: They prioritize total understanding of problems over speedy solutions, deliver "simple," intuitive results to encourage consumer adoption and make bold, courageous decisions to both engage employees and empower corporate futures.
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