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All Teams Need To Be Innovation Teams And All Leaders Need To Be Innovation Leaders

Written by: Linda Watkins, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


The media, world leaders, scientists, economists, and others all agree that the world is facing some intractable and wickedly complex problems. We wonder: Will we leave a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren? Can we mitigate future global pandemics and supply chain issues?

It is generally accepted that only innovative, out-of-the-box thinking can tackle these challenges and that we will need innovative thinking from everyone. Why, then, are we not working to make every organizational team an innovation team and helping every leader lead on the innovation front? Clearly, every organization needs to overcome inertia and resistance and become innovative.

The fascinating 2014 book Collective Genius by Linda A. Hill et al. feature organizational cases that describe in detail what innovative teams and leaders need to be and do in order to succeed.

Pixar, the animation studio that has never made an unsuccessful film, is the first case study in the book. It describes the frank communication, inclusion and involvement of all employees in that company and how it was able to get everyone on board to meet both high standards and firm deadlines.

One anecdote from the book is about how Pixar teams finished a version of the Toy Story 2 film only to have everyone decide it wasn’t good enough. They threw away years of work and developed a new version in time to meet the production deadline. Obviously, there were leaders driving these teams and innovative efforts. No one can say their work was easy.

The book describes the leaders who get things like this done at Pixar, IBM, Pfizer and Acumen as people who are idealists yet pragmatists; holistic thinkers yet action-oriented; generous yet demanding; human yet highly resilient.

Leaders must know how to help their teams develop a learning mindset and communication abilities that are respectful, honest and frank. Innovation leaders also realize that teams and individuals make mistakes. The key has an organizational culture and ecosystem where mistakes are seen as a way to learn, grow and innovate.

The trick is to organize and encourage that organizational culture and ecosystem.

“First, you must create a place where people are willing to do the hard work of innovation with its inherent paradoxes and stresses. For that, you need to build a community with a sense of shared purpose, values and rules of engagement. Second, you must create an organization in which people are able to do the work of innovation.”

According to the book, the keys to bringing about this kind of culture are the ability to generate ideas through discourse and debate; the ability to test and experiment; the ability to make integrative decisions that combine disparate or even opposing ideas; and the ability to integrate each individual’s slice of genius into collective genius.

Again, leading innovation is not easy. It can be challenging, frustrating, fun, exciting, exhausting and rewarding. But it is the only way to address the problems with which we are all dealing.

To quote McKinsey & Company’s Leading Off newsletter:

“Innovation isn’t about playing it safe, but many companies have been doing just that since the COVID-19 crisis began. McKinsey's research shows that organizations are deprioritizing innovation in favor of shoring up their core business, sticking with known opportunities, and waiting until “there is more clarity.” But they may be losing out on unconventional ways to grow. The pandemic set in motion far-reaching disruptions such as radical shifts in consumer behavior, changes to sales models, and the advent of unexpected competitors”.

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Linda Watkins, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Linda Watkins Ph.D. is an executive and leadership coach with decades of experience helping leaders achieve personal and professional growth, including in new, creative, and future-oriented areas. She helps clients embody their leadership and become authentic, grounded, and future-ready. Many find her work transformational. Linda's passion for helping leaders thrive by developing new skills and capabilities has only grown as the world has become more complex. She and her company, Leadership for Today, are strong advocates for women and have been designing events that empower women for over 30 years.



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