Gutsy Leadership Accelerates Innovation

Gutsy Innovation Leadership

by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg, and Dain Dunston

Today’s companies need leaders who are gutsy, not afraid of change and are driven by a desire to innovate. Here are five strategies for accelerating innovation in your own business.

1. Gutsy Leaders Are Comfortable Being Uncomfortable.

If you’re selling the same old stuff to the same old customers through the same old channels in the same old way you’re probably pretty comfortable. You’re also on the verge of becoming impotent and obsolete.

Innovation makes everyone uncomfortable. Why? Because it’s messy. It offers no guarantees and rejects proven solutions. It tests the validity of an idea through trial and error. And, it disrupts the equilibrium of an organization.

Culture is designed to protect itself. People who are invested in yesterday’s innovation will not take kindly to your attempt to dethrone the status quo—particularly when their sense of significance is tied up in what is. Then, you have decision makers who want to evaluate your idea with the conventional tools of the existing culture: Will it perform as expected with a high degree of certainty? Can you be certain it will accomplish the mission? Are you sure it will produce the projected ROI? Of course, the direct answer to all of these questions is no.

Breakthrough innovation requires leaders with thick skin—leaders with courage who refuse to play small. The good news: Courage is contagious. One brave innovator can spark the pilot light that encourages others to think big and act bold. The bad news: Complaining, whining and cowardice is contagious too.

– What can you do to inspire a little positive disruption in the status quo?

2. Gutsy Leaders Live Dangerously

The world is not changed by those who are unwilling to take risks. No Wimps! It takes GUTS to move a business in bold new directions. It takes GUTS to get out on the lunatic fringe where new breakthroughs are found. It takes GUTS to go “left on red,” to blow-up the old rules and free smart people from dumb processes and stupid systems that limit their potential. It takes GUTS to keep moving when the elegant answer eludes you and you feel stuck. It takes GUTS to stand alone in pursuit of a dream no one else believes in.

The trial and error world of the innovator is NOT for the faint at heart.

  • What is it that you want to do with your business that could be scary?
  • What is it that you want to do with your life that unnerves you?

Maybe it’s time to start dreaming again. Maybe it’s time for you to start living dangerously—to test new ideas, try new things and challenge the status quo—and even be WRONG! If you’ve never been wrong maybe its time to step out of your comfort zone and try a few new things.

Here’s the problem. You can’t escape risk. Most of us fall into the trap of thinking that safe is safe; but safe can be risky too. There is always something at stake. Should you take a leap of faith into a bold new future or hunker down and protect yesterday’s innovation? In either case, it’s a risk. But, make no mistake. Without exploration, without frequently stepping over the line you will never be able to determine how much capacity you have. Unless you test the limits of what you can achieve you’ll never really know your boundaries.

3. Gutsy Leaders Shake It Up! Hire the CRAZIES

Diversity inspires innovation. Surround yourself with off-the-wall dreamers and doers who don’t think and act like you do. You know who they are. It’s the hippie mom in a gypsy skirt and funky earrings who writes killer marketing copy. It’s the gear head who reads comic books at lunch, but radically reduces costs and cuts cycle time by revamping your whole IT infrastructure. It’s the oddball fashion designer who reconfigures the layout of your entire facility and creates space for people with diverse perspectives to bump into each other and engage in unscripted, yet stimulating dialogue that leads to new ideas, fresh perspectives and maybe even an innovation or two!

These “crazies” are the nonconformists, frustrated activists and eccentrics on the lunatic fringe. Are they bizarre, peculiar and a little bit awkward to have around? Yes. Are they uncomfortable and unnerving? Yes. But if perpetual innovation is your goal you need to be around people who think and act differently.

Groucho Marx said, “It’s the cracked ones who let in the light.” They stretch you, make you feel uncomfortable and sometimes make you mad, but they are the ones who bring imagination and ingenuity into your culture. They are the people who can invent and re-invent any job they are doing. You can’t innovate without them. They are the ones who set you apart in a sea of sameness.

– Do you have the guts to run with the crazies?

4. Gutsy Leaders Are Hungry for Change

Have you ever thought about what happens when you are really hungry? When you’re hungry you are focused and determined. You are not easily distracted or derailed from your goal. When you’re hungry you are ambitious. You do whatever it takes, within reason, to satisfy your hunger. When you’re hungry you’re flexible. You are open to trying things you wouldn’t normally try because you might find something you like that you didn’t know you would like.

What would happen if you had a critical mass of leaders who were hungry like that—for change?

The shelf life of your current business model or service or product line keeps getting shorter and shorter. What would happen if everyone in your organization had the ability to LET GO of the past in order to create a better future? What would happen if you built a culture that learned how to say “YES” fast—a culture where people move with a sense of urgency, declare war on complacency and say “yes” to new skills, new relationships, new business models, new products and new markets?

You would expand your bandwidth for innovation and keep that pipeline charged with new ideas!

It’s a pretty safe bet that you and your organization WILL change over the next 24 months, but will the majority of those changes be crisis-driven or opportunity-led?

  • Consider the last five major changes your organization has been through. What drove them? Was it a really cool, unprecedented opportunity or an impending crisis?
  • Rally your team, what can you do to collectively minimize crisis-driven change and instead inspire opportunity-driven change?

5. Gutsy Leaders Notice, Think Big and Act Bold

What if we commit to NOTICING? In Tom Friedman’s book “That Used To Be Us” he describes the OODA loop used by fighter pilots. It stands for observe, orient, decide and act. Needless to say, the pilot with the fastest OODA loop wins! What if business leaders and their teams adopted an OODA loop of their own? Gutsy leaders NOTICE—they observe and see clearly what other people look through, have grown to accept as the way it is, or just choose to ignore. Gutsy leaders study, learn and borrow. They think and see beyond what is visible and they act. Innovation requires us to open our eyes, stretch our minds and see beyond what we currently know. Innovation requires us to see and discover the possible in the impossible.

– When was the last time you attempted to do something impossible?

In our recently published book, NANOVATION, you get a behind-the-scenes look at how Ratan Naval Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group NOTICED! And how he accelerated innovation by inspiring a young design team to accomplish what most said was impossible and create the Tata Motor’s Nano – a $2500 car, one of the greatest innovations since the Model-T.

Don’t worry if you’re not a car nut, it’s not a book about cars, it’s a book on thinking big, acting bold, and accomplishing the impossible. It’s a practical and inspiring “how to” on innovation.

The Nano is today’s example of how gutsy leadership, vision, perseverance and moral imperatives spurred a global innovation. NANOVATION is not only the story of an Indian car; it represents a revolution in business thinking and design that will have a profound effect on everything that comes after it – not just in the automotive industry, not just in India, but in every industry around the world.
Business leaders, it’s time to be gutsy. This is your practical “how to” on accelerating innovation. NANOVATION equips leaders with 8 rules for creating a business culture of innovation and inspiring a team of Nanovators.


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Kevin and Jackie are husband and wife, entrepreneurs, business partners, and bestselling authors of the book NUTS!. Dain Dunston has helped some of the world’s smartest companies build cultures of innovation. Together, the Freibergs and Dunston wrote the new book, NANOVATION: How a Little Car Can Teach the World to Think Big and Act Bold.

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3 Responses to Gutsy Leadership Accelerates Innovation

  1. Patti Cipro says:

    on the Post it note placed as blog opener. “Freiburg” is spelled wrong, please make the correction it is FREIBERG. thank you!

  2. tilly pick says:

    You left something out. It takes a lot of guts to VISIBLY lead an organization with thousands of livelihoods attached to it. Real people, their families, their futures are impacted by what you do. It’s easy to be the gutsy leader you describe on paper, on a blog, in a motivational speech. But in front of people who count on you to do the right thing, now that takes guts.

  3. Pingback: Innovation Excellence | Top 100 Innovation Articles of 2011

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