- Be broad-minded: Innovation is not only about products or technology, the most profitable innovations are most often not in these areas, but in finance, business models, services and new businesses. See how you can innovate to receive faster, improve cash flow, or enhance the sales of your current products (besides just pushing your sales people to sell more);
- Be a customer: To create what the customer needs, you need to be one of your customers or at least observe them, listen to them, analyze them and empathize with them. The guys from Microsoft certainly embraced their customers when they created the X-box;
- Be open: Be open to new, unorthodox ideas, different ways of thinking, and people from different backgrounds. It is easy to fall into the “think alike trap”. People generally like to be surrounded by others that think like them, work like them and have ideas like them. You are surely missing out on game-changing ideas when you do so. Search for people that come up with different views about the same issue, that contest your opinion, the results will surprise you;
- Be connected: For every person in your company there are many others just like them outside your company. Make use of this incredible source of knowledge and innovative capabilities, there are many ways to do so. Procter and Gamble used this as a basis for their highly successful Connect and Develop Open Innovation Program;
- Be aspiring and ambitious: be a visionary; bold goals will make people move. This is how mankind landed on the moon and although you will not have to go that far, creating a mission on where you want to be will help people to understand what they are working for;
- Be inspiring: Show people the way, be their example and support them all the way, put your money where your mouth is. Telling people they should innovate and then not giving them any resources or support is of course counterproductive (but it happens so often!);
- Be determined: to innovate you need to be curious, creative, patient, ready to fail, quickly to learn, but more than anything else be passionate about what you do and determined to make it happen. When I played professional baseball, I did came to understand that talent could get you only so far, it was the determination that brought most of the players to the big leagues. The same works in companies, talent will get you some good ideas, but determination will make sure these ideas generate business success;
- Be clear: To create innovation, your organizational model needs to work in harmony. There is no use in incentivizing employees to innovate when their managers keep controlling them, for example. And different types of innovation programs need different types of strategies, communication, processes, metrics and governance. An idea program needs velocity, where a radical new business innovation program needs dedicated resources;
- Be bold and fearless: Innovation will not always be successful: if you don’t fail, you are just not innovative enough. Be aware that some money is just going to go into a “learning” experience (but please learn from it!). Without this attitude, money will always be attracted to short term, incremental gains (sorry, but most of your executives will look at their yearly bonus and most shareholders to quarterly results);
- Be careful: Innovating is not about betting the company every time, it is about carefully investing along the way. You need to know what portfolio and pipeline you are searching for and how you gradually increase investments when potential end results become clearer. In the end it matters that you spent most money on winners and not on the ideas that did not get further than the prototype phase;
- Be a long term thinker: dare to undermine your current business with innovations that will keep the organization in business in the long run. This will require incentivizing your people to do so. Of course it does not mean trying to destruct your company every other day, you will need to find the right balance between making a profit today and ensuring your profit for tomorrow;
- Be organized: Processes and routines seem to be dirty words when it comes to innovation, but it is exactly what is needed to make ideas become innovation. Periodic review meetings, checkups on project status, idea evaluation accompaniment, etc., are crucial so that innovation does not just become a lot of money spent (instead of invested).
I am sure I left out a number of important attributes of an innovative leader, so I am interested to hear about them from you!
By Caspar van Rijnbach
About the author
Caspar van Rijnbach, Dutch from origin, lives and works in São Paulo where he is an Executive Director at Ernst & Young’s Advisory. Passionate about Innovation, he has been working as a consultant for over a decade with large Brazilian companies and multinationals to improve their capabilities in innovation and knowledge management.
Caspar is author and co-author of several books and articles about innovation, some of them published internationally and others in Brazil, in Portuguese. Also, he has given classes at renowned universities in Brazil, spoken at both national and international conferences and has lead many in-company courses.