The innovative organization had an atmosphere of constructive dissent. Anyone can challenge anything. The more sacred the cow, the more likely it is to be sacrificed. The conventional leader of years gone by who ruled by command and control is unsuited to a fast moving entrepreneurial environment. They may be decisive and dynamic but ultimately their reluctance to let go and to allow challenge will limit the motivation of people and the growth of the business.
What you need to encourage is not a lack of respect but a lack of deference. In the modern innovative organization leaders need to earn the respect of their employees because of the values they stand for and not because of their position in the hierarchy. A lack of deference should be encouraged so that anyone can challenge anyone else’s ideas regardless of their status.
‘Innovation comes from angry and driven people,’ says Tom Peters. The innovator is not happy with his lot. He is impatient for change. And this can be a problem for successful companies. The natural satisfaction that people derive from success can lead to complacency, which is the enemy of innovation. This is why the innovative leader always engenders a healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo. It is all very well telling shareholders that the company is making steady and satisfactory progress but the internal message needs more of an edge. ‘We are doing well but there is much more to be done. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels.’
Clayton Christensen, in his book the Innovator’s Dilemma, explains how the very characteristics that make successful companies successful lead them to eschew risky new ventures and keep improving their current products to meet customer demands. In doing so they often miss the next big thing, the new technology that kills them. Polaroid’s demise at the hands of digital photography is a salutary example.
In 1901 the radio pioneer, Guglielmo Marconi, came to England to test his theory that it was possible to send radio signals across the Atlantic. The experts all scoffed at the idea – after all the earth is a giant sphere and radio waves travel in straight line. The experts had reason and logic on their side but Marconi was unreasonable and insisted on pursuing his experiment. Amazingly his signal was received. Unknown to the experts (and to Marconi) there is a charged layer around the earth, the ionosphere, which reflected the signal.
Often the innovator has to be obsessive to the point of apparent irrationality in pursuit of their dream. They have to be rebellious in opposing conventional wisdom. Steve Jobs, James Dyson and Richard Branson were all seen as obstinate angry rebels before they achieved the success that changed their status to visionaries.
So if you want innovators in your team look for people who are passionate about their ideas, who do not defer to authority, who are dissatisfied with the status quo, who are impatient for change and who are angry about the obstacles put in their way. With a profile like that they should certainly stand out from the crowd!
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Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, both published by Kogan-Page.