What do business leaders want? is perhaps too broad, or too simple, a question. It goes without saying that you want to build business success, deliver a high-value strategy, provide outstanding customer outcomes, deliver great returns for shareholders and build a great place to work. However, depending on your industry and the current state of your business, your top-line ambitions may be hijacked by multiple challenges ranging from staving off fast-growth start-ups or digital disruptors, the war for talent or launching new products or services faster than ever before.
Nevertheless, it appears that there is one ambition which despite the distractions of digital, automation and the like, is still consistently at the top of most business leaders’ lists; innovation. So much so that when Speakers Corner drew up a list of its most requested speaking topics from 2018, innovation came top of the list.  As this Speakers Corner article commented;
“Our most in-demand speaker topic, innovation is a term often thrown about in business and can mean different things to different companies and industries: but we can all agree that it is crucial for growth, facing future challenges, and gaining an advantage over competitors.”
That recognition of the importance of innovation in delivering business success is echoed by the CB Insights State of Innovation 2018 report  which revealed that 84.9% of executives saw innovation as being very important to organisational success. The same report commented that the more senior the survey respondent, the more importance they placed on innovation. Interestingly, the survey analysis also showed that innovation within high-performing companies was far more likely to be centralised higher up the organisation, particularly with the CEO, than in moderate or low performing companies.
So is the answer to my question about what business leaders want quite simply innovation? Well possibly, but it does have to be the right sort of innovation. What do I mean by that? Well let’s be honest, there is a vast gulf between knowing that you need innovation solutions and actually delivering an innovation strategy. And that gulf is filled with the noise of tens of thousands of offered solutions, many of which have parasitically attached themselves to the innovation bandwagon. In the old days, a snake oil salesman had to trundle his cart from town to town, nowadays they simply need access to the internet.
It’s hardly surprising therefore that when Wiki-brands looked at the art of the keynote speech , ‘authentic thought leaders, out-of-the-box creative thinkers and market savvy futurists’ were seen as the preferred speaker archetypes. Interestingly, at 61% this survey also saw innovation and the future at the top of the preferred topic list.
So, why is thought leadership and creative thinking so prized? Well for a start, thought leaders don’t spend much time telling you that you need to develop an innovation strategy. And when they do so they back up their remarks with authenticated statistics which are either designed to demonstrate how far the marketplace has moved or to shock leaders out of complacency. So in general thought leaders are innovation leaders, developing solutions to take the marketplace to the next level and showing others how they can take practical steps to transform their own organisations. Interestingly, that was one of the prime drivers behind the decision to write ‘Building a Culture of Innovation.’  We were increasingly coming across leaders who told us that they knew they had to build innovation capability into their organisation but simply didn’t know where to start.
As Wiki-brands demonstrated, business leaders recognise and value the contribution played by thought leaders at conferences and events. But thought leaders are also valued in other ways. Research by Edelman and LinkedIn  in 2018 revealed the part played by thought leaders in influencing business purchasing decisions. Their findings clearly showed that “B2B decision makers are spending more time engaging with thought leadership content and that the impact of such content is growing across the entire B2B buying journey.” However the research also revealed the danger of professing that the content you provide is thought leadership and more so, self-professing that you yourself are a thought leader without being able to deliver on that outward appearance. For example, whilst 92% of respondents said thought leadership had increased their respect for an organisation, 42% said that poor thought leadership had resulted in a decrease in respect for the organisation.
What does all of this mean? Put simply, it highlights the way in which organisational leaders value genuine thought leadership allied to practical assistance in creating and delivering their innovation strategy and culture. This is why I co-founded The Future Shapers  with Richard Copland. Our original aim was to provide trusted, high-value content in order that senior executives and leaders can not only make better sense of innovation, but also informed decisions about how to shape the future of their organisations. It’s also why we’re now working with ‘Corporate Partners’ like Fidelity International, Intergence Systems and Leading Edge Only who are some of the best corporate practitioners and providers of innovation software, technology and consultancy services to help them drive trust and visibility in what has become an incredibly saturated market. At the last count, The Future Shapers was regularly read in 185 countries, so I think we’re achieving that!
The Future Shapers doesn’t peddle ‘snake-oil-instant-panacea’ but we do provide practical solutions that help leaders transform their organisations. Our global tribe of thought leaders don’t tell you what you already know, look to scare you into making unwise decisions, or convince you that you need to hire them to ‘innovate for you or you’ll die’ but aim to push your boundaries, share new thinking and help you shape the future.
What do business leaders want? You don’t need us to tell you, you already know. Our job is to help you get there.
This article was written by Cris Beswick for The Future Shapers and previously posted on 13/06/2019.