By Dimis Michaelides
At the heart of innovation lie forces that simultaneously oppose and complement one another. Like yin and yang, each has its benefits and drawbacks. Together they create value. The innovative leader must recognise and reconcile these forces.
In contemporary organisations four paradoxes come to mind. First, top-down and bottom-up approaches to engaging people in innovation. Second, the roles of individuals and teams. Third, the importance of continuity and change. Fourth, how imagination and reason both drive innovation. Here are some tips on how leaders can manage these paradoxes.
Tips to engage people top-down and bottom-up:
Tip #1: Design your innovation strategy formally. Let your leadership team define your innovation roadmap, the type and pace, specific targets, projects, resources and systems to achieve them and the people accountable for delivery.
Tip #2: Reconsider your business model regularly. Question your business model at least once every six months. Involve your people in key decisions of strategic change.
Tip #3: Engage all people in innovation. Design systems that will encourage all people to actively generate and implement new ideas.
Tips to nurture both individuality and teamwork:
Tip #4: Provide individuals with time and space for creativity. Set challenging expectations for creative ideas to all individuals and offer them time, appropriate surroundings and flexible hours to work on their ideas.
Tip #5: Provide teams with time and space for creativity. Set clear innovation deliverables and insist on high trust and clear accountabilities within teams.
Tip #6: Establish programmes to train people in creativity and teamwork.
Tip #7: Give individuals and teams recognition for innovation. Reward people on an individual and on a team basis.
Tips to actively manage both change and continuity:
Tip #8: Keep changing yourself all the time. Make one big personal change every year and a small one every month. You should be convinced of the value of these changes. Make change a conscious and continuous flow in your life.
Tip #9: Confront the obstacles to change decisively. Decide which barriers are beyond your control (such as regulations), which barriers are challenging, and which are quite easy to overcome. Recruit allies. Have them tackle the easy obstacles first. Make the most painful changes fast. Sell the changes you want with a good mix of passion and reason.
Tip #10: Manage continuity wisely. Embed periods of consolidation and contemplation, in your change projects. Figure out how to deal with and learn from mistakes and failure.
Tips to empower both imagination and reason:
Tip #11: Practice thinking the impossible. Every week, take a challenge you have and find an impossible solution which, if feasible (it mustn’t be), would somehow resolve your challenge. Find at least ten impossible ideas for each challenge. Ask others to do the same.
Tip #12: Practice making the impossible possible. Every week, re-read your challenge of the week before. Transform the impossible ideas into creative (therefore feasible) solutions. Ask other people to do the same.
Tip #13: Make choices and take action often. When you are ready, take your creative solutions and make a longlist, then a shortlist of the ones that are most valuable. Analyse them in some depth – costs, benefits, risks, barriers and how to overcome them. Consider how you might manage the trade-off between a very valuable but hard-to-implement solution and a good easier-to-implement alternative. Then choose, act and move on.
The Heart of Innovation – Managing Apparent Paradoxes (2019) by Dimis Michaelides© with an introduction by Ros Taylor, is a mini-book available in Kindle and other online formats