Disruptive Innovative Dominoes: How Great Leaders Inspire Innovation

by Andy Heikkila

Disruptive Innovative Dominoes: How Great Leaders Inspire Innovation

The world we live in is in a constant state of change. A 2014 study hinges on that axiom, attempting to quantify the accelerating rate of said change in a business/enterprise capacity by looking at the entry and exit of U.S. corporations in the S&P 500 index.

“In 1958, corporations listed in the S&P 500 had an average stay of 61 years. By 1980, numbers… had declined sharply to 25 years. In 2011, the average tenure dropped to 18 years,” according to DXC Technology and HBR. “At the present rate of churn, Innosight’s research estimates three-quarters of today’s S&P 500 will be replaced by 2027.”

This study indicates that while companies succeed and fail for a multitude of reasons, the lion’s share can be chalked up to digital disruption. The oft-used example (which is really only a few years old) is the innovative birth of streaming service Netflix, and simultaneous death of video-rental chain Blockbuster.

While there are definitely winners and losers in the game of disruption, one thing that everybody can benefit from is the chain reaction of explosive innovation that disruptive trends incites.

Disruptive Digital Dominoes

Here’s the thing: digital disruption essentially causes an innovation domino effect. Once a problem or improvement opportunity is identified, innovators set a new paradigm by solving the problem so well that it shakes up the entire industry. Some people even welcome disruptive innovation, especially when the problem is severe. George Washington University’s online resources on disruptive innovation in healthcare touches on that precisely:

“With 11 billion dollars wasted annually by hospitals, it will take unparalleled creativity and innovation to turn things around. Who will have the power to bring new, disruptive ideas to this dire situation?” they ask.

After the first innovator comes up with a solution that flips the field on its head, the domino effect begins. Others scramble to adapt, drawing deeply from their own creative wells to figure out how to lead and inspire their own organizations — not only to keep up, but to stay ahead. In this way, one innovator causes a world of disruption, requiring the rest of the industry’s participants to innovate their own processes and solutions in response.

The problem is that innovation, and the inspiration needed to propel it, can sometimes feel scarce. Great leaders understand this, and they also understand that they can’t achieve innovation alone, no matter how inspired they might feel personally. As such, they excel at inspiring innovation within their organization.

How Leaders Inspire Organizational Innovation

“We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action.” — Frank Tibolt on Inspiration.

Actively inspiring innovation is no easy task. However, there are four specific things that professional executives and organizational heads around the world do to stimulate innovative attitudes in their companies.

Communicating Future Trends and Visions

Getting ahead of and even driving disruptive change using the tools and technology on the fringe of your industry’s future is essential to driving innovation. This means that you need to understand and communicate not only current trends but future trends as well, using statistics and other predictive indicators.

A perfect example of this can be seen with blockchain technology in accounting. “Blockchain can save banks 30% on infrastructure costs; that’s why, by 2024, the estimated worth of the global blockchain technology market is $20 billion,” according to Maryville’s resources.

This means that workers in the FinTech industry should be talking about blockchain technologies from the top to the bottom of their organizations. They should be constantly predicting how this new technology will continue to change accounting and finance, and preparing their own solutions in advance of blockchain’s mass adoption.

Understanding Leadership vs. Management

While “innovation” itself might depend a little more on knowledge and hard skill, the “inspiring” part is rooted in soft skill. This is why, whether they are really trying to or not, great leaders and inspiration generally find themselves side by side. To understand why, we first need to understand the difference between organizational leadership and management.

A succinct description of what management vs. leadership is comes from the Bostitch blog:

“…managing is counting and controlling a group to reach success. Leadership, on the other hand, is guiding and working with those under you directly to help them. Supporting and encouraging them is key, not pressuring and criticizing.”

To inspire change and innovation, you can’t just direct people to complete tasks. You have to cultivate growth within them, and they must decide to follow you. In the same way that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, managers can lead employees to work, but they can’t make them think.

True leaders figure out how to get their employees to invest their time and energy of their own free will. This usually is in response to a leader’s investment in the employee themselves — as a part of the company, and as a person on this planet.

Learn how to lead, and you’ll learn how to inspire. From that point, it’s simply about perfecting your approach.

Consider Motivational Seminars and Speakers

Unfortunately, not every great leader is a master of public speaking or motivational seminars. Even if they were, it’s more important for leaders to develop and garner a few deep, interpersonal relationships rather than many shallow ones. The good news is that professional public motivational speakers are great at moving companies in inspiring directions. In fact, motivational speakers can help to inspire morale, demolish toxic outlooks, and trigger “creative light bulb moments” in your organization.

“…top motivational speakers are great to spark the imagination again – those typical light bulb ‘aha’ moments,” write the experts at Meerkat Motivational. “The breathing space offered by events, are ideal to generate new insights and to get the creative juices flowing again.

If you need to motivate and inspire an entire organization, including people and employees outside of your direct sphere of influence, consider hiring a professional that specializes in just that.

Ditching the Fear of Failure

“Back in 1989, we had a very large disaster… The failure led us to develop a new way to manage inventory, and we went from being last place in the minor leagues to where we now win the World Series every year,” says Michael Dell, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Dell Computer, in an article with HBR. “To tap into that kind of innovation, we do our best to make sure that people aren’t afraid of the possibility of failure, and we do a lot of experiments.”

He explains that one of his managers came up with a new idea that included offering installation services with the sale of Dell computers. Within two weeks, this service was available to every consumer in the U.S., even though Michael Dell had no oversight on the project.

“I actually found out about this by accident—it wasn’t something that we had a bunch of meetings about in boardrooms,” says Dell. “Incremental improvements and experiments happen all the time.”

By making sure that you don’t let fear get in your way, you’ll always be able to move forward and learn from mistakes. Not every endeavor will be a success, but at least your failures will be worthwhile learning experiences that eventually fuel innovative progress.

Mastering Inspiration

As stated before, inspiring innovation is perhaps one of the hardest skills a person can attempt to master. Nevertheless, as disruptive as the world has become, it appears that it’s going to be one of the most essential skills for business success in the modern world.

Remember that, as with any other skill that you’ve ever learned, you might not be great at inspiring innovation in others to begin with — but that’s alright! The more you practice and learn from your experiences, the better you will get over time (remember, ditch the fear of failure!).

Indeed, the world is always changing in ways that are difficult to both predict and fathom. It is ever-changing, which means that we will have to change alongside it. Inspiring innovation in others will help guide them through that change, and come through the other side in better shape than before.

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Andrew HeikkilaAndrew Heikkila, a tech enthusiast, and writer from Boise, Idaho, and a frequent contributor to Innovation Excellence. He also writes for Tech Crunch. You can follow him @AndyO_TheHammer

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