I recently had the opportunity to complete the Life Styles Inventory developed by Human Synergistics. Having recently taken an innovation leadership role within a financial services business I was eager to understand more about my own leadership style, and in turn how could I improve it to be more effective in driving innovation outcomes.
For those that are not aware of LSI, the life styles inventory is a tool designed to promote constructive change – with the feedback helping individuals more clearly understand what is currently supporting and hindering their personal effectiveness, with guidance to developing more constructive styles of thinking and behaving.
Three key takeaways
The three key takeaways and recommendations for those leading innovation and change within your organisation are:
1. Develop constructive leaders and teams, then innovation (or any objective really) can thrive – create a safe environment for trying new things.
2. The power of the group outperforms individuals (most of the time) – innovation is a team sport.
3. Find where your organisation spends its energy and help to redirect it towards the blue behaviours – clear the path for your innovator’s.
More on each of these below.
Lesson 1 – Develop constructive leaders and teams, then innovation (or any objective really) can thrive
Chance favours the connected mind – Steven Johnson
It was seemingly clear that there is a direct link between leaders and employees in an organisation that demonstrate constructive behaviours were more effective in achieving their objectives. These behaviours are achievement, self-actualising, humanistic encouraging and affiliative. And why is this? Because organisations don’t innovative, people do. As a leader it is your responsibility to create an environment where people can work together, listen to each other, feel safe to try new things, bring their unique selves to work, and work in a way which encourages true collaboration (not broken down into silos). The result will be more resolution to complex problems, creation of value for customers and continuing innovation.
Of the constructive behaviours, those that I found to be most relevant for encouraging innovation in a culture were humanistic-encouraging and affiliative. Quite intentionally, the opposite to humanistic-encouraging is oppositional. And, I am sure you can recall a time in an organisation where you tried to do something new and were faced with fierce opposition to an idea. Often managers are too quick to judge an idea as their experience tells them otherwise. Sometimes, managers know that something won’t work because it has been tried before and it has failed.
However, more than ever, this is the time to support your team to ‘have a crack’ and try something different. Provide your team the space to give life to the idea and validate whether or not it could work. It is the exploration of the problem and its’ potential that is important, not necessarily the solution at hand. One way you can try and practice this as a leader is when employee team brings you can idea, instead of saying “No” try saying “Yes and”. Give them some room to explore it. An environment to try new things. They will feel motivated to come up with better ideas when a leader is using a humanistic approach.
The effectiveness of the outcome of building the blue behaviours must also be relevant to a reduction in, or a low score in the green (passive) and red (defensive) behaviours. Standing out in the green, is the “computer says no” conventional behaviour. Don’t get me wrong, processes are needed in the core business, even for innovation. However, there must be some flex, some ways to “hack” the process and to have a go. A good way to do this is to proactively set goals and bounds for your innovation efforts to create the “safe to fail” environment. Let your teams know when and where it is safe to try something new, provide that “safety net” for them.
Lesson 2 – The power of the group outperforms individuals (most of the time)
The sum of the parts is greater than the whole – Aristotle
In one exercise in the day we performed a group activity where we were asked to rank items in order of importance relating to a bush fire scenario. Apparently running away in a bush fire isn’t a good idea! The scenario was less important, but what the exercise demonstrated a group performs better than the average of the individual performances.
This demonstrated a known rule – innovation is a team sport. Very few innovations in our history have been the result of the epiphanies of a single individual, but rather it was the joining of the dots, collaboration or connectivity that allowed innovations to come to light. Throughout history there are examples of innovation being brought together by the intersection of ideas and technologies. In Steven Johnson’s book, “Where do good ideas come from?”, he provided many examples of this occurrence, including the forefathers of innovation Darwin and Edison drawing on others ideas and theories to arrive at their own.
Therefore, try and increase the amount of collaboration in your organisation. You can do this through establishing multi-disciplinary teams for projects, using hot desking or seat rotations, running internal pain storming sessions where others try and help solve other teams challenges, getting out of the building and networking or simply catching up for a coffee with another colleague you haven’t met. Increase the number of serendipitous interactions and increase the number of opportunities for new ideas.
Lesson 3 – Find where your organisation spends its energy and help to redirect it towards the blue
Mistakes are the portals of discovery – James Joyce
The notion of energy came up throughout the session. And I thought it was an important one, because we don’t often talk about levels of energy in business. Time and money top the list of common KPIs. I thought, perhaps if we were to regularly monitor levels of energy within a business and where and how we were spending it, we might just be able to move the needle on innovation. This is because often, not only is it lack of time or money that limits investment in innovation, but also the additional emotional, reputational and sometimes physical (stress) drains on your teams energy just to get it across the line.
For example, think of a time you spent more time managing the process rather than doing the job you would like to get done. This can be frustrating and consumes a lot of energy of everyone involved. And often, those processes are just “people doing their job” and most of the time, for good reason. In business, we term the behaviour to “get through” as resilience and often reward it, which is a shame. If that energy was better directed towards the more constructive blue behaviours (rather than the green or red behaviours) then I would argue more positive outcomes could result, with much less effort or energy involved. But of course, in this lies the innovators dilemma at its core. The need to protect the core business and execute on the known with operational processes, versus searching for the unknown, and the need for flexibility and sometimes breaking the rules. To spur innovation, ultimately you need to create an environment where both can happen. This is commonly known as the ambidextrous organisation.
I recently read “The Little Black Book of Innovation” by Scott Anthony. In this, Scott explained an analogy about organisations asking their employees to try new things, but do not give them the tools or the safe environment in which to feel safe if they don’t succeed. Scott compared this scenario with that of a tightrope walker in a circus asked to do a new routine without the safety of a net below. Scott argued that not only this would limit the tightrope walker from trying new tricks, it would also demonstrate to the rest of the circus stars, that there would be no safety net either. And thus, no new tricks are attempted by anyone.
To avoid this, when undertaking your next innovation project, consider setting up a separate team or outside of the normal organisation bounds in a new physical environment with processes and governance of its own – a safe place to try new things. But, ensure that you manage the “re-entry” risk when bringing your ideas home by effectively managing your stakeholders and having a multi-disciplinary team that can represent the key aspects of your business. If the physical space is not available, developing your ‘goals and bounds’, or the safe to fail space up front will be critical to your success.
The LSI tool was an effective tool to better understand how your thinking as a leader impacts yours and others level of effectiveness, and guidance on where you can help your organisation shift to and invest time in for sustainable results. Driving a culture of too much passive defensive behaviours, and you might be faced with, sticklers for the process, people who are ‘playing it safe’, and deflection of responsibility and accountability. All the opposite behaviours you need when looking to encourage our teams to be innovative and proactively solve complex problems.
Similarly, if there is too much reinforcement of the aggressive defensive behaviours of oppositional, power, competitive and perfectionist, then you might be faced with ideas being shut down quickly, people primarily concerned with protecting their own status or “patch” as opposed to focusing on the best way to serve the customer, limited collaboration, a fear of failure and as a result limited “big ideas”. That is, you might then expect ideas and solutions that are incremental improvements or seek to achieve short term objectives. Long term innovations or that ever eluding “disruptive innovation” are less likely to be found in these environments.
Ultimately, successful innovation requires people trying (and sometimes not succeeding at) new things. You need to be okay with this and proactively create the environment that allows this behaviour to thrive, where people are encouraged to learn from mistakes, to try new things and feel confident that there will not be a punishment for “getting it wrong”. As with any diagnostic tool, its effectiveness comes through on going measurement and most importantly action on your behalf. So I recommend trying the LSI and if you are looking to build an innovative organisation, focus on building the blue behaviours. Because it’s amazing what might happen if we just try new things.
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Brenton Charnley is Head of Innovation at MetLife Insurance, Sydney, Australia. Formerly the Innovation Manager at KPMG, he is a corporate innovation specialist helping entrepreneurs, teams and corporate executives embrace new ways of thinking and doing business. In 2012, Brenton was identified as one of Australia’s top 50 emerging leaders by the Australian Financial Review and University of Sydney. Connect and follow Brenton @BrentonCharnley