Innovative Leaders

What Gives Them An Edge?

Sep 16

Innovative ideas don’t come to light fully formed…. they require individuals to craft, shape, and will them into being. An innovative mindset combines key behaviors with the belief that a great idea can come from anywhere. The innovative mindset lies at the heart of distinguishing a leader from a follower. Innovative leaders continuously contribute to society with their creativity, search for wisdom, and out-of-the-box thinking. The popularity of the television show Shark Tank and the success of companies like eBay, Apple and Amazon demonstrate the power of innovative ideas to revolutionize industries and create tremendous wealth for the innovative company and their innovative leader. In today’s global and challenging marketplace, leaders are looking for new ways of being, thinking and doing to create a competitive edge. Innovation has become the lifeblood of those leaders who operate and succeed in the global marketplace.

Becoming an innovative leader is more than just a function of the mind or genetics. It is a set of behaviors that, when practiced regularly, are the catalyst for imagining unique new future states and figuring out the path to get there. This is good news for all those in leadership. It means that changing your behaviors can improve your creative impact. Employing an innovator’s mindset and leadership strategy will give you and your organization an indisputable competitive edge. Innovative leadership extends beyond just thinking differently …. it extends to translating thinking differently into acting differently. So right now, you must be asking yourself, “What is it that innovative leaders do?”

Innovative leaders systematically practice the behaviors of connecting, observing, questioning, networking and experimenting. These behaviors ignite new ideas, innovate processes and create new ways to resolve challenges.  Innovative leaders are not reliant on past experience or known facts but use creativity and discovery to answer the question “What if?”

Here is a more detailed look at the behaviors employed by innovative leaders. By staying curious and mastering these behaviors, you can create the mindset necessary to elevate your natural creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to the innovative level.

Find the Common Threads and Make Connections

Innovative leaders discover new directions by developing connections across seemingly unrelated fields, situations, problems or ideas. They synthesize diverse and seemingly unconnected information to spark creative insight and leverage a diverse knowledge base to carve out new paths and options for resolving challenges. Participating in this type of creative thought and encouraging others to do the same fosters an atmosphere that promotes connecting distinctly different ideas, technologies, and disciplines to develop new and innovative solutions. As a leader, consistently seek out diversity of thought across industries, fields and disciplines so that you hear the best and brightest thinking on current challenges and how to solve them. Diversity of perspective allows you to develop an inventive solution from a vast array of possibilities, perspectives and viewpoints. Be willing to explore what might initially appear to be foolish or an unrelated set of facts and circumstances. A disconnected set of facts can offer unseen common threads when looked at with a curious and open mind. Combining seemingly unrelated facts can often lead to new approaches or be leveraged to surface a new business idea.

Be An Avid Questioner

Innovative leaders pursue wisdom through questioning. They unswervingly ask questions that challenge the status quo thinking and uproot ideological thinking. Innovative leaders ask powerful, thought-provoking questions that are specifically designed to push boundaries, challenge assumptions and disrupt conventional wisdom. They seek to turn thinking inside out and expose what has not been seen before. An innovator’s questions explore fully ‘what is’ and then ask questions that expose ‘what might be’. Questions are the mechanism through which the innovator discovers what might be possible instead of what is possible. Expand your model of the world by seeking answers to questions that cause you to rethink or reinvent how you see the world. Get over the fear that asking questions will make you look foolish or disagreeable. Be humble as a questioner and genuinely curious about seeking others’ knowledge and insight. Lastly, ask good questions after good questions and make sure that each new question builds upon or expands upon the information gleaned from your previous question. Good questions asked with no expectations about the response allow you to gather the depth of information needed to translate and contemplate a new or unique approach. To be an innovative leader means that you question boldly, even when you believe you know or have the answer.

Be Observant

Innovators are keen observers of the world around them. Their questions and observations help them discern options, opportunities and connections between seemingly unrelated things. Innovative leaders are powerful observers of how things work, and more importantly, they are intensely aware of what isn’t working. They constantly look at how others solve challenges and look for common threads and methods that could be leveraged to solve problems in their world. Consistently looking for the surprises and the unexpected help innovators steer clear of facts or information that confirms the status quo. Be an ardent observer of people, trends, products and technology. Observation of people’s needs and desires leads innovators to identify, ignite and create opportunities for new products, ways of doing things, thinking, technology and systems. Seek to incorporate better ways of doing things, even if it comes from outside your industry or discipline. Constantly look for even better ways to do something, even if at first it seems to defy all reasonable thinking. Brainstorming what is possible, no matter how implausible, can spark new thoughts and spotlight a starting point for creating something never before seen but desperately needed. Use all your senses so that you can discover what others have yet to realize they are missing, as of yet unknown needs and then solutions for a solution to those.

Network to Test Ideas

Innovative leaders look to connect and share ideas with people outside of their comfort zone or sphere. By sharing ideas and solutions with a profoundly different group of people, innovators learn new and often surprising things about their ideas and themselves. Innovative leaders look to build connections with people whose backgrounds, skills and experience are dramatically different from their own. They seek a diversity of ideas and perspectives through networking. Networking for the innovative leader is not focused on selling themselves or their ideas/solutions but instead focused on testing ideas and gathering perspectives from others. Building bridges with other people whose outlooks and thought processes challenge yours leads to exploration beyond the usual places or people. Reach out to experts in other fields and identify different approaches to problem-solving that might prove useful. Leverage experiences from all aspects of your life, both personally and professionally. People see different possibilities, options and outcomes in situations; use this to your advantage. Respecting and being open to another’s perspective is the way to build the information-sharing pathway. Ideas and strategies are exchanged freely and without judgment when you hold others in genuine regard, and they trust you. Choose people in your inner circle specifically because they have different experiences, knowledge and backgrounds. Have a diverse and trusted group of people, friends and advisors who are open to seeing the world in an inside-out way so that when testing ideas, you have the broadest sounding board. Valuing the difference in others’ learning methods and problem-solving strategies helps counter our own confirmation bias about how things need to be accomplished.

Experiment and Learn Quickly from Mistakes

Innovative leaders actively pursue new experiences and opportunities to test hypotheses and ideas. They are willing to experience failure on the way to success. Innovators routinely employ experimentation to find out and hone what is possible. Experiments are a smart risk way to make things happen. Experimenting creates the opportunity to test and adjust in real time and in the real world.   Innovative leaders embrace the learning that comes from experimenting and learn quickly from mistakes. They see more value when experiments turn out differently from the way in which they are expected. Mistakes and surprises provide the opportunity for new learning and invention. Innovative leaders have the willingness to experiment with strategies that are not necessarily directly linked to the overall outcome and leverage learning in all areas of their life. They value all learning and believe strongly that one never knows when what you’ve learned in an experiment in one aspect of your life can inform another. Disassembling processes to learn and understand how they work and why they work the way they do is a staple in the behavior of an innovator. This forms the basis for turning the known inside out and reinventing the process. Even when they have arrived at an innovative idea and launched a solution or product, innovators continue experimentation to improve upon what has been created. Using the other skills as a basis for creating experiments ensures that the experiments innovators conduct are able to generate the information needed to ignite new ideas. Connecting, questioning, observing and networking all help to minimize random experimentation and get innovators closer to where they want to be. As a leader, experiment with new experiences, tools, ideas, strategies and products in an open-minded way and support those around you who are willing to look at the world differently. Continuously and consistently shift and reframe your ideas along the way. Enthusiastically seek out information about new trends and thinking. Awareness of the trends leads you to create new theories and form the genesis for the experiments. This process allows you to take the trend one step further or invent something that solves an as-of-yet-unknown need created by the trend. Adapt an experimentation approach to all situations. Be open to looking for learning in failure and leverage knowledge gained in one area of your life to influence and bring a new perspective to the matter at hand. Learn to take things apart as a way to create something better. Understand how something works and then look for a way to do it better or differently.

Innovative leadership creates opportunities and makes ongoing success a realistic endeavor. Adding this to the leadership skill set of analyzing, planning and executing on strategy is how you, as a leader, gain and maintain an edge.

Are you willing to challenge yourself and build innovation capabilities as a leader? Let me know what you are doing in the comments field below.