January 20

A CEO’s Guide to Innovation.

Welcome to my latest challenge. I’ve been given a thousand word limit to write an article that gives you an insight into how to innovative. As a leading expert and speaker on leadership & innovation I spend the majority of my time advising companies on my unique approach to innovation. So the next 966 words might be a bit quick and dirty but as the article title suggests here’s your guide to my left-field perspective on embedding innovation into your organisation.

Here’s the fundamental truth I believe in; ‘innovation is a by-product of being exceptional’. In essence, unless you strive to be outrageously good at what you do the chances of being truly different, innovative and world-class are remote. There’s also little chance of innovation becoming an embedded part of your companies culture!

In todays ultra-competitive globalized market place filled with savvy consumers, and agile competitors there is in fact little room for innovation, as we’ve historically known it. Big leaps away from competitors are hard to come by and whatever you make or sell can and will be copied with ease. So, when I work with companies and their senior teams on innovation, what we really look at is how to do things differently. Why, because it’s no longer about ‘what you do’ it’s about ‘how you do it’. Your competitors can copy products along with everyone else but if you get it right, they wont be able to do it like you do! It’s what I call ‘Differentiated Innovation’.

This means winning is now about how you become ‘Outrageously Good’ at what you do. Creating the right culture and engaging your people to want to be exceptional is what the worlds leading, most innovative companies do best. They are talent-rich, entrepreneurial communities, collectively passionate about what they do and how they do it and that’s why we look at them and brand them innovative.

I believe building an innovative ‘people centric’ company is about your approach to these initial seven things, Strategy, People, Community, Environment, Creativity, Risk and Leadership. These are explored in more detail in my latest book ‘The Road to Innovation’ and all play a huge part in getting you, your people and your business further down the road to innovation.

The best companies in the world say they are on a journey as it’s the journey that creates significant change. Start by being absolutely clear about your strategy for innovation and the differentiation you want to achieve. Most importantly, your people need to be clear about it as well so involve them in the process. After all, if they deem it ‘your plan’ they’re less likely to do it and certainly won’t do it well. Create ‘belief’ by clearly communicating what you stand for, the difference you want to make in the world and the legacy you want to leave.

Creating an innovative culture means creating a talent-rich, silo free community where everyone is able to contribute and where there is no place for the status quo. Vital to the success of creating the right community lies in choosing the right champions. These are individual’s usually your middle management who can represent all corners of your business. They shouldn’t filter and support messages from the top down, but should feed the voice of the company out from the center.

If you want your people to love what they do and think differently you must provide an environment that fosters creativity. You must create ‘an amazing place to work’ because physical space matters. Make it grey, linear and boring and it will negatively influence the way people think and the way they feel. Creating pressure-free time and the space for people to think, and evaluate is key to maximising team performance.

Creating a truly differentiated company requires you to push your people away from well-trodden paths and expose them to different perspectives and points of view. You’ll need to show your people that they can be creative and give them the tools to be so. You must also expose all your people to real customer problems and needs so they know why and where you need them to think differently.

Innovation requires risk however the traditional business model is focused on minimising risk. But if you end up doing nothing, then you assume the future will be no different from the present and that you are happy with your current position. So, address your exposure to risk and justify every step of the journey. Change your people’s attitude towards risk and empower them to learn from it rather than fear it. Quick tip… Read the section on ‘ju.ven.di.ceed’ in the ‘Risk’ chapter of my book!

The final and most relevant thing to you as the CEO is leadership. People need a clear vision; they need to know what direction the company is going in, what the destination is and whether the journey will be worth the pain. Your people need to be inspired by you to become exceptional, to become outrageously good at what you do and how you do it.

Take some time to study some of the contemporary, genuine leaders in the world and you’ll see they have similar traits. They’re absolutely on-fire, they’re dynamic and they’re inspiring. To be so they have to be inspired as well and that helps make them sincere. They’re passionate about the company and its brand and they demonstrate that they ‘live it and breath it’ every day.

So, don’t look too hard for innovation. Instead look to transform your company into a talent-rich, outrageously good powerhouse because when you do and the time is right, innovation will find you! That’s why I believe ‘innovation is a by-product of being exceptional’.

That’s my CEO’s guide to innovation in fewer than 1000 words! I wish you the best of luck but if you need an external perspective feel free to get in touch!


Differentiation, Growth, Innovation, Innovation Culture, Leadership, Strategy

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