Leading a Culture of Innovation

What drives innovation in organizations?

innovation2Why are younger companies more likely to be better innovators in the short term? 

Curiosity and an attitude of openness to possibilities, ideas, experimentation and a sense of excitement tend to be underlying drivers for innovative organizations.  Therefore it is not hard to see why youthful organizations would have a higher innovation drive; in general young people are by nature open and curious.  Unfortunately this path of youthful exuberance is littered by entrepreneurs that could not sustain these traits; typically after many years of experience their openness and curiosity tends to shrink in direct proportion to the number of battle wounds they endure in the marketplace.

Many however, do not succumb to such fate, any more than older leaders with more years of experience under their belt.  What differentiates these leaders?

These are leaders who have recognized along the way the importance of developing their emotional intelligence as their organization was growing.  They developed a keen inner observer (read previous blog “Leadership & the Inner Observer”) and have come to value how that aspect of themselves drives them toward curiosity about their thinking and in turn about the thinking of others.  They have come to understand that their colleagues’ experience, concepts and ways of expression can add value to their leadership if they stay open to them and curios about their impulse.

An emotionally intelligent leader tends to be a curious one, and a curious leader tends to inquire, and frequently so, before they make their decisions.  They have learned how to navigate their curiosity through skillful means of inquiry; asking the right question at the right time and with a tonality that is open and inviting of others to reveal their thinking.  These inquiry skills create opportunities for everyone around the table to explore without judgment, to add and subtract without hesitancy, to challenge each other toward more possibilities and fresh new perspectives without personalizing their differences.  This is a leader who will purposefully move away from the tendency for an unwarranted style of command and control; instead they will drive their teams to develop the sharp edge of innovation by becoming comfortable sitting together on the edge of the unknown exploring possibilities.

When a leader teaches an attitude of curiosity and skillful means of inquiry by example, and begins to insist on it with the rank and file, such attitudes begin to spread within the culture of the organization.  As enough people adopt these attitudes, a new culture of innovation begins to emerge; a culture that does not take anything at face value.  Its members learn to skillfully ask the difficult questions, driving themselves and their peers to higher levels of thinking, productivity, creativity and new ideas.

Asking difficult questions of yourself and your peers requires skills that include mutual respect, encouragement of all ideas and the recognition that in every idea, even the least significant, lays a kernel of wisdom worth inquiring about and worth teasing out of the collective wisdom of the group.  A culture of innovation demands the unfettered collective imagination and wisdom to be skillfully and persistently nurtured by its leaders.

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