Why Innovation is so Hard for Leaders

Most business leaders don't understand what makes innovation so different from everything else they do at work -- and they haven't adjusted their behavior to accommodate these differences. This article covers five truths about innovation that many leaders overlook, and what to do to improve their success in implementing it.

Many leaders are obsessed with big data, but it’s not very helpful when it comes to innovation. It doesn’t help leaders in situations where the causes of events are not well understood or where there is a lot of potential variability. Excessive data stops you from running meaningful experiments. Better to make a little, sell a little, and learn a lot.

Failure is inevitable when you’re in the midst of the innovation learning curve. The author suggests that leaders learn from venture capitalists: Hedge your bets. Diversify your projects. Take multiple shots at a single goal. Fall in love with the problem, not your solution. Inevitably, it won’t be quite right, at least right now. Fail early, often, and out of sight.

Don’t try to innovate from the middle of the company, where middle managers maintain equilibrium at all costs and attack ideas like antibodies going after a virus. Instead, take on the difficult cases, the lost causes, the problems you can solve and learn from on the fringe. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Quickly adapt winning strategies, develop methods based on your conclusions, and apply those lessons everywhere.

Don’t focus on consensus too early. Lively intellectual debate is healthy, and leads to better solutions. Hire a diverse team of people who think differently than you do, and encourage positive intellectual pushing and shoving so that the best ideas get heard.

Practice circling your project — double back and reconsider what you may have overlooked. Build prototypes and see what works and what doesn’t work. Learn as you go, and don’t be afraid to redraw your maps on the fly. Your adaptability as a leader will help you to survive, grow and live to tell the tale.

Read full article » management.fortune.cnn.com/2013…