“Leadership is the essence from which true innovation is conceived, but without the right cultural environment, the seeds of innovation can't bloom into commercial reality."

-from BREAKING AWAY by Jane Stevenson & Bilal Kaafarani


What Is Innovation?–Over time innovation has come to be used as an umbrella term for everything from true  breakthroughs, like the hybrid car, to the  modification of product features or processes  that could then be labeled "new." Renovations are not innovations. Tweaking technology to make a product more current or loading it with  features to keep up with the competition is not  setting the bar any higher. To be a true innovation, an offering has to have three essential elements:  (1) it has to be one-of-a-kind unique; (2) it has to bring real value to the consumer or customer and; (3) it has to be commercial—or worthy of exchange.

Innovation: When most of us think of innovation we think huge–light bulb or Internet huge. While it's a noble ambition to seek something that will transform the world, the fact is, few will succeed. That doesn't mean innovation is beyond reach–far from it, because there's not just one kind of innovation–there's four. In our model, three additional classes of innovation join Transformation. Category, Marketplace and Operational Innovation each offers tremendous breakthrough opportunities, to revolutionize an industry, a market, or the company itself. Any company who wants to thrive needs to be continually engaged in them all. 

Leadership: Along with the four types of innovation, there are also four kinds of innovation leadership, ranging from the discovery oriented transformational leader, to the detailed oriented operational leader. If you have the wrong person for the job, you're doomed. To find the best fit, you have to know what makes these leaders tick. We introduce groundbreaking profiles for all four leadership types and the ideal environments that help them thrive. We also devote an entire chapter to the CEO. The book ends with a passionate letter from employees with insights on what people really want for themselves, their company and their leaders. It's an eye-opener every executive must read.

The Payoff: It's amazing how many companies, after spending millions of dollars developing an idea, fail to bring it home. They fail because of timing, poor insight, lack of agility, and sometimes just sheer arrogance. The prize belongs to whoever can engage, excite and activate employees and customers, not only to want to follow that company, but to become its biggest fan. In the final chapters of BREAKING AWAY, we tell you how to rally the troops, and create an Innovation Action Plan that will set your company up for the real payoff–sustainable growth.

The Dark Side of Innovation

When we began writing BREAKING AWAY, we made a conscious decision to keep our focus on the positive as much as possible. While there's value in negative examples we believe motivation and inspiration come from feeling good about yourself, your future, and the world around you. Having said that, we would be remiss if we didn't talk about the pitfalls into which so many companies stumble. We call it the Dark Side because, like a place void of light where little can flourish, it is a surefire innovation killer. Here are the four innovation assassins we find to be the most deadly.

A Climate of Fear
The story goes that not too long after Joseph Stalin (a notoriously iron-fisted dictator) died, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, was addressing the Supreme Soviet Council. As the new leader ranted about Stalin's terrible crimes, a voice called out, "Comrade, you were there. Why did you not stop him?"

Khrushchev stood glaring for a moment at the faces in the hall. Then he yelled, "Who said that? Show your face! I want to know who said that!" No one spoke. No hand went up. After a long and uncomfortable silence, Khrushchev said, "Now you know why."

Fear is a part of life, and unfortunately, it's often a part of work too. People are afraid of making mistakes, looking stupid, crossing a controlling boss, or challenging cherished traditions and "the way we do things." When these fears exist, it not only limits employees' creativity and exhausts their energy, but it triggers their fight-or-flight instincts. 

When this happens, either you're constantly pushing against resistance to your ideas, or you're losing your best people to the competition, sometimes in droves. No one likes to be constantly on the defensive. If your culture says mistakes, failures, or even just thinking too creatively are bad, then how can you expect anyone to take a chance?

As a leader of innovation, you can't eliminate fear in your organization, but you can reduce it by showing understanding, encouraging openness, being truthful, accepting intelligent failure, and welcoming the respectful challenging of ideas. 

If you currently have a culture that is steeped in fear, make it a top priority to change the climate. It will take time and commitment, but if you replace fear with a feeling of safety, the quality and speed of innovation will improve dramatically.

Politics as Usual
While so many leaders claim to believe that innovation is important and part of their charter, as Bill Ford says, people too often say yes and do no. That's because although everyone claims to be working busily on innovation, no one actually is. Politics, or fear of politics, is one of the biggest deterrents to innovation. It derails teamwork, encourages self-serving agendas, and undermines everyone's success.

When this happens, the organization gets lost in a web of internal politics and positioning, and it loses focus on company objectives.

The only way to take politics out of the mix is to change the reward system. If you make innovation the carrot instead of individual accomplishment, politics will begin to fade. There will always be those whose self-interest will dominate their actions, but even they can be brought into the fold if getting ahead means taking up the innovation banner. It doesn't have to be politics as usual. What you're aiming for is one for all and all for one—the company.

We've all known people who were so convinced they knew everything that they closed themselves off to new ideas, wise counsel, and a helping hand. This is the worst kind of leadership for innovation, because innovation at its core means being open and willing to accept the unknown. Arrogance keeps people insular and out of touch with customers, employees, and reality. 

It promotes a hierarchical culture that is internally and upwardly focused. When arrogance is coupled with a tyrannical leadership approach, as it often is, it ultimately encourages people to avoid risks at all costs. They become more focused on pleasing or hiding from the boss than on creating a company everyone is proud of.

The sad thing about arrogance is that it often masks insecurities or a lack of self-esteem. If you're working for a leader who fits the know-it-all profile, there's probably not much you can do about it except take one for the team. If you have a great idea, make it his or her idea, and know that in the end this kind of character won't be around forever.

While the innovation killers we've already talked about are pretty easy to spot, this one is more of a silent killer, something like heart disease. You often don't know you're suffering from it until it's too late. Myopia—or being shortsighted—can be seen in indiscriminate cost cutting to improve numbers, downsizing in the areas where innovation should flourish such as research or marketing, and keeping everyone so focused on next quarter that there's no time to think about the next decade.

The first step in curing myopia is recognizing that it's there. It bears repeating that too often companies say they're committed to innovation but then don't follow through. There's a big future out there if you look at the horizon.

BREAKING AWAY • PHONE: 404-222-4022 • • copyright 2012 The Winning Jaguar™ • All rights reserved
*The Winning Jaguar is not affiliated with Jaguar Cars Limited, Land Rover, Tata Motors, or their related companies and subsidiaries.