Today’s managers are full of ideas, theories and information. They have extraordinary knowledge and expertise. They are highly skilled at traditional business thinking. Yet many feel uncertain and unmoored. They continually ask themselves what is the new process, the innovative product, the game-changing service, the compelling vision.
Being an innovative leader holds the key to discovering what’s new, what’s better and what’s next.
Truly innovative leadership means fostering new thinking and collaboration that produces new business opportunities. It means building a capacity for innovative thinking and using it in concert with business thinking.
Innovative thinking doesn’t rely on past experience or known facts. It imagines a desired future state and figures out how to get there. It is intuitive and open to possibility. Rather than identify right answers or wrong answers, the goal is to find a better way and to explore multiple possibilities. Ambiguity is therefore an advantage, not a problem. It allows us to ask, what if? Business thinking comes into its own after we discover new opportunities through innovative thinking, when we then seek to implement and commercialize those opportunities.
Everyone can develop and use innovative thinking skills. Getting started, however, can be intimidating. Whether your focus is operational or involves your own practice of leadership, you can experiment with innovation in three key ways.
Reframe the challenge. Innovative thinking can be used to redefine, or reframe, a problem. Often the problem we are focused on isn’t the important problem. Or the challenge we’ve selected is too big, or too small. By looking at the problem in a different way, you gain clarity and insight. By reframing problems, you uncover new places to innovate, or new angles to take. To reframe your challenge, ask powerful questions, challenge assumptions and bring in multiple perspectives. .
Focus on the customer experience. Innovation begins with really deep, empathetic understanding of the customer. Even the most sophisticated market research operation can’t replace first-hand understanding of what goes on in the customer’s life and how it is affected by your product, process or service. Get out and watch your customers (or suppliers or employees) work, live and play.
Practice rapid prototyping. A hands-on try-it-out approach is invaluable to innovation. Rapid prototyping–building and testing new things fast–jumps past endless analysis to quickly provide the kind of feedback and knowledge that typically takes months or years.