Love Works and Innovation

by Scott Bowden

Love Works and InnovationIn Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders, Joel Manby provides a roadmap for any business leader seeking to transform the way he or she interacts with coworkers, employees, and customers.

Manby, formerly the CEO of Saab Motors at GM, is the CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, the largest family-owned operator of theme parks in the US. Manby’s work provides valuable insights for practitioners of innovation. When driving an innovation program or even pursuing a single idea, we often forget that we are engaged in an activity that is little different from the thousands of other work-related tasks that those of us in the business world face on a daily basis. We sometimes become so focused on the power of innovation, or the excitement of pursuing something incredibly novel, that we lose sight of the importance of exhibiting the qualities of leadership in our day-to-day interactions with members of the team working on pursuing innovation. Manby’s “Seven Principles for Effective Leaders,” explained in the context of work in the innovation process, can serve as sound reminders of the types of behaviors we need to demonstrate.

1. Patient – Have Self Control in Difficult Situations

We all inherently know that patience is a virtue and that innovation requires immense quantities of patience due to the well-documented prevalence of failure in the innovation process. For every successful idea, there are hundreds of failed ideas, and only a patient innovator will have the stamina to continue working through the process to make the refinements needed for an idea to succeed. Manby’s first principle, however, points to a larger considerations for an innovation team leader – that of how to deal with difficult situations. For an innovator, a difficult situation could be a failed idea or a cut in funding for a project which, depending on how much an individual had invested emotionally in an idea, could become quite challenging. In this scenario, the innovator must exercise patience and self control, knowing that a sound idea in the long run will prevail.

2. Kind – Show Encouragement and Enthusiasm

Kindness is a word not often associated with innovation, as we sometimes view the innovator as an inspired genius who casts aside social mores and ignores the wants and needs of colleagues to focus on developing a new product or concept. Enthusiasm is often overflowing for an innovator, but engendering enthusiasm in others requires the other “e” mentioned by Manby, encouragement. By encouraging others in their work to support the development of a new idea, the innovator can create a more enthusiastic team.

3. Trusting – Place Confidence in Someone

Love Works and Innovation

For the innovator, trust is perhaps the most challenging of Manby’s principles. Afterall, an innovator may have created an idea and nurtured it with blood, sweat, and tears. It is difficult for the innovator to place confidence in a colleague to assist with driving that idea through to completion, though in almost every case this assistance is critical to the success of the overall innovation effort. Few innovations emerge from the work of a single person with no outside interactions, and innovators can almost always benefit from the input of a skilled colleague or industry observer who can offer up modifications of or new applications for an idea. Another interesting twist on this principle is the fact that in innovation work focused on generating a patent and/or a market-changing idea, we often are wary of sharing that information with anyone at all, lest that person “steal” the idea and claim ownership, particularly with the US Patent Office’s implementation of the “first to file” rule. Thus for an innovator to place confidence in someone, there has to be an extremely high amount of shared trust, even more so than in a typical business environment.

4. Unselfish – Think of Yourself Less

Obsession with an idea can sometimes lead to an overbearing focus on oneself, particularly for the person who first thought of the idea and has an inherent interest in seeing that idea work through the innovation process. However, just as a leader who is too inwardly-focused can fail the test of leadership, so, too, can a selfish innovator fail to provide the type of critical thinking that is needed in the innovation space. An innovator who is thinking too much about himself or herself loses the ability to view an innovation from an outside perspective, such as that of a customer. As an idea evolves, the innovator may drive it in a direction that does not necessarily align with the marketplace. In some cases this works (see Steve Jobs), but the inward focus of the innovator can also lead to the development of ideas that are less attractive to a larger audience. Selfishness can be dangerous in innovation.

5. Truthful – Define Reality Corporately and Individually

This is perhaps the most important of the seven principles in terms of its applicability to the innovator. The basic act of exploring a new idea often forces an innovator to stray from the realm of what is real to the realm of what “could be,” and this initial suspension of disbelief, while required at the beginning of the innovation process, can become a hindrance later on in the process. An innovator looks beyond reality to identify a new idea or concept, but must come back to reality at some point to assess the applicability of the idea to the marketplace. Creative thinking starts the process, but reality has to be injected at some point. Manby’s particular insight here is that reality has to be defined at the corporate level, in terms of what are the capabilities of the company or organization, and individually, in terms of what the innovator is able to achieve. There are limits to any corporation or individual, such as would be the case with a company in one market trying to develop a market-shattering innovation for a completely unrelated product or service. For an individual, there are always limits to what an innovator can accomplish and truthfulness to oneself, according to Manby, is the key to leveraging this knowledge as a leader.

6. Forgiving – Release the Grip of the Grudge

In the course of working on an innovation, a practitioner will experience peaks and valleys in terms of interacting with colleagues on the project. As a visionary, the innovator may be particularly impacted by negative comments from a colleague about the innovator’s cherished idea. Such comments, if repeated, can eventually reach the point of engendering a grudge between the innovator and the person making the statements. The danger of the grudge is twofold. First, the holder of the grudge may focus time and energy on the grudge. This is time and energy that is not spent working on the idea itself, and the overall process suffers as a result. Second, the holder of the grudge may allow anger to overshadow the absorption of the feedback being provided by a colleague. This feedback may end up being critically important to the success of the innovation, particularly in that it might reflect true external insight into the viability of the idea, and may trigger the innovator to think of an alternative approach to developing his or her idea. Once the innovator releases the grip of the grudge, he or she is open to new thinking.

7. Dedicated – Stick to Your Values in All Circumstances

This principle of leadership may be the easiest of all for the innovator if we look at it solely in terms of dedication. After all, innovators tend to be the type of individual whose focus is intense and who are the very definition of dedication in their tireless pursuit of a new idea or concept. While Manby acknowledges the importance of dedication as a principle of leadership, the idea of sticking to one’s values also receives top billing from Manby. This raises the question of what are the values of the innovator. An innovator’s values can vary as widely as the subject matter of the innovation itself. For instance, an innovator working on a better method of purifying water for rural villages may be demonstrating the value of improving living conditions for humanity. Conversely, an innovator working on an improved manufacturing technique to reduce costs for a major corporation has another set of values in mind. In both cases, though, the innovator must be dedicated to his or her purpose and should stick to the values that inspired the innovation in the first place.

A final thought for innovators comes from a quote that Manby notes appears on the desks of many of his employees:

“The enthusiasm of your customer’s experience can never rise any higher than the enthusiasm of your own employees.”

Just as an employee dedicated to pursuit of a given value will provide great customer service, so, too, will an innovator dedicated to the pursuit of a given value drive powerful innovations. An innovator carrying forward these seven principles can improve his or her performance as well as the performance of the team accompanying him or her on the innovation journey.

Source: Joel Manby, Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Books, May 2012) image credit: visualize & smallbus.

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Scott BowdenScott Bowden works on Innovation Programs for IBM Global Services.

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