Radical Innovation Begins with These 2 Leadership Skills

This month we’re featuring a guest post by Licensed Practitioner Erin “Pink” Mosley. She is president of a rapidly growing consultancy that provides innovation leadership programs and coaching. She applies her knowledge as a professional engineer along with research and practice from a broad range of disciplines (especially the neurosciences) to create unique results for each client.

At its core, innovation is transformation. Sometimes it looks to expand and optimize the existing business, and we call it incremental innovation. At other times, it is more exploratory and experimental – looking to create new business from a deeper level. We call this radical innovation.

While the radical innovation is perceived by many as more risky, especially in the technology sector, original insights derived from data in Innovation360’s InnoSurvey© demonstrated that organizations who work well in radical innovation use multiple leadership styles concurrently and are able to adjust rapidly to changing circumstances. They are also financially performing better.

In the original research study, Cultivating Growth and Radical Innovation Success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution with Big Data Analytics, Innovation360 CEO Magnus Penker and Dr. Soo Beng Khoh set out to explore exactly why some innovators are more successful than others. They analyzed a data collected from 2,900 companies over 52 months and found that radical innovators are more structured and better able to handle both certainty and uncertainty by using multiple leadership styles.

We also know that in most organizations, the attention is placed on the incremental small changes that can be directly tied to return-on-investment (ROI). In my experience as a global innovation director for a Fortune 500 firm and in working with hundreds of leaders and organizations of all types, making the leap from this incremental mindset to radical innovation is harder than it looks. Often it ends up mired in confusion. Think about it: if your teams have been excelling for years at meeting and beating those ROI-type performance metrics, they’ll need the right support to learn and adapt to a new approach.

Radical innovation has the potential to change everything, so the entire process must be managed well to overcome the natural human resistance to change. Transformation can be uncomfortable on both a personal and an organizational level.

The most successful radical innovators implement clear decision-making frameworks in order to effectively work with larger, more complex problems. A designed structure supporting an exciting, challenging, and rewarding experience.

But the structure and frameworks alone aren’t enough. There are personal and leadership skills that form the bedrock of innovation culture and allow you to execute innovation strategies that succeed.

My work as a consultant and coach draws from many disciplines, particularly the neurosciences. I’ve seen too many promising leaders and organizations falter when they became stuck in certain patterns of behaving and reacting. This is understandable and predictable; after all, the brain wants to move in a direct path to its goal while avoiding all discomfort and pain. But when we’re in that mode, leading an innovation culture can be challenging.

The more we learn about the brain and the nervous system, though, the more we realize how adaptable we are. Here I share two of the biggest leadership shifts that support transformation:

Skill #1: Understanding Stress

Fuel for better insight, action & radical innovation

When we begin working together, my clients generally don’t have a great relationship with stress. They lack fundamental understanding of what stress really is and how to work with it in the mind and body. Consequently, they think it is normal and unavoidable to carry chronic levels of stress with them day in and day out. Oh yes, and through the nighttime too.

Poorly understood stress – especially when it ricochets throughout a team or organization – brings with it a host of obstacles to effective innovation leadership. You might be surprised to hear that the answer isn’t in relaxation techniques, most of which perpetuate the idea that the mind rules the body and can somehow tell stress to just go away.

When I work with clients, we take a different approach: stress is not the enemy. It’s an untapped resource. We start with basic education of stress biology paired with practical neurosensory exercises. In this way, we begin to pay attention and learn the true language of stress.

One way to describe this is “presence.” Rather than let your mind race and drive your body to remain in a “high alert” state on a regular basis, you work directly with stress in a more productive way.

This is very much like becoming fluent in a new language. Leaders and team members at all levels in the organization can finally understand the information and insights that stress is giving them. To put it simply, this new and valuable perspective comes from being skilled in presence of mind, presence in body, and presence in the situation.

Can you imagine what your team or organization could accomplish if they could harness their collective stress as useful energy?

Skill #2: Transformative Thinking

The antidote to limitations and goal-fixation

Transformative thinking helps you avoid the traps of goal-setting. Traditional goal-setting has its place, but it can be dangerous to radical innovation because it presumes to know the end game.

From a neuroscience perspective, our brains love the feeling of reaching goals. So much so that your leaders and team members will tune out “distractions” that try to pull them off from the most direct path to the stated goals. But what if those distractions hold important information and options that would lead to a better result?

The trick of leading radical transformation is to become skilled in an iterative approach that looks to better understand and refine the question rather than rushing to an answer. You test in small steps and iterate the question and possible solutions.

Too often people feel pressure to rush to an efficient solution, but one that leaves the core problem untouched. The primary reason behind that is that too many organizations are lacking the skills of enacting the anthropologist persona. Until you truly understand the full scope of the challenges, you will continue solving the wrong problems in the wrong way.

The more you can create a culture which can question, listen, and observe on a deeper level, the more success you will have with leaders and team members who are able to remain open to unknown paths. Starting from there, your initiatives to achieve radical transformation are far more likely to be successful.

Can you picture what your organization could learn, understand, and do with even one innovation team that was highly skilled and dedicated to working in this transformational mode?

Radical Innovation – Putting It All Together

With stronger knowledge and skills around stress and transformative thinking, the organization becomes better equipped to reduce and move through the potential friction in the shift to radical innovation.

The effect and momentum grow stronger as the organization supports the development of these leadership skills in its people, and then the people can better support the organization to reach its aspirations. Leaders and team members at all levels will be able, willing, and motivated to use the insights of Innovation360 to better align the capabilities of the organization to its aspirations. As the organization becomes more aligned, it naturally fosters an ongoing and sustainable innovation culture in which everyone continues to fine-tune and develop capabilities that match the aspirations – thus capturing the substantial benefits of both incremental and radical innovation.

Want to learn more about any of these topics?  You can visit her Innovation360 Licensed Practitioner profile or website at erinmosley.com.