Are you a person of INNOVATION or a person of DISCOVERY?
I have been in multiple meetings and asked questions about people’s perceptions of me and our organization. I have had many discussions in the past year of my life about perceptions. People’s perceptions are people’s reality, and people’s reality tends to be their truth. People’s first impression of you might be false, but it will be their perception of you. How people perceive you is more crucial than you might like to admit. How do people perceive you? I want to compare two popular leadership styles influencing how people perceive us: The spirit of innovation and the spirit of discovery.
Please understand that innovation and discovery are strengths; each is important and good. I am confident that the spirit of discovery creates more success than the spirit of innovation.
One is not born with either of these styles of leadership influence; they are a choice. Which type best describes you?
The Spirit of Innovation
Webster says innovation is “to make changes or do something in a new way.” I define innovation: As taking something old and making it useable in a new way. Innovation is reformation; innovation is often the act of taking something that worked over there, tweaking it, and using it over here. Innovation is doing something old differently.
On the surface level, the spirit of innovation sounds fantastic. I’m not opposed to the product that innovation creates; I’m apprehensive about what the spirit of innovation does to the innovators.
When a group of people innovates something, they become very loyal to the innovation. Why? Because they innovated it, and it is theirs.
When an innovator innovates, they take something old and reform it into something new. Once innovation occurs, the innovator naturally thinks their innovation is exceptional and loves it.
When the innovating group believes they have created exceptionality, it is nearly impossible for them to innovate again. Why? Because innovation is making something work better. For an innovator to re-innovate is to admit that whatever they first innovated is now lacking. No innovator ever wants to admit that their innovation is no longer working or needs to be improved.
Another problem with innovation is that anything innovative is not new but has a façade of new. Grocery Store shelves contain products with bright new advertising: “new and improved.” However, it is the same product with a newly designed label.
Innovators approach products and ideas with an attitude of “needs improvement.” Great leaders can see what’s not working and envision what is necessary to make it work. I’m calling into question the disposition of the innovator. An attitude of “that needs improvement” is usually preceded by an attitude of “I can do it better.” Having an “I can do it better” attitude and being humble is tough.
An innovator naturally believes they can improve a product and only achieves such by first criticizing it. Critics are rarely respected and sought out for advice because innovators breed arrogance. Innovation does not lead to arrogance; it breeds arrogance. To breed arrogance, one must have the arrogance to start with.
The Wall Street Journal recently came up with a list of 5 common mistakes of Innovators. I will give a brief description of the errors, and if you want to read the full article, you can go to: “http://blogs.wsj.com/source/2011/05/23/five-common-mistakes-business-leaders-make-about-innovation/?mod=google_news_blog” http://blogs.wsj.com/source/2011/05/23/five-common-mistakes-business-leaders-make-about-innovation/?mod=google_news_blog
I added a sixth to the mix of the five common errors of innovators.
1. You believe your numbers. You insist on “seeing the numbers” too soon, and you only have to base your numbers on your past statistics. Remember that innovation is not creating something new it is taking something old and making something you think is better, and numbers usually drive this reality. Driven by numbers creates a leadership mindset that RESULTS matter most. Using a biblical worldview to demonstrate my point, people of the Bible who focused on controlling their results always caused significant damage to relationships and hurt the numerical results.
2. The Success Trap. When a company gets financial success because it got very good at what it does, it focuses on what made it successful. This focus on “what got us here” causes a crowding out of other options and points of view, and it is only a matter of time before the company gets stuck in its inability to innovate itself, causing success to fatigue. Large companies are most susceptible to success fatigue, and their death is frustratingly slow and agonizing. In the book “In Search of Excellence,” by Peters and Waterman, the authors tell the fate of 43 companies recently leading the world that got caught in this trap. Today only 5 of those 43 companies even exist.
3. Believe they know the competition. The innovative company makes a substantial mistaken identity gaff when identifying the competition. Ask the innovative company’s CEO, “Who is your competition?” They will usually reply with the company that is most like them. The problem is that history proves that our most significant competitors typically come from a different angle. i.e., Shipping companies suffered from the steam engine; the internet threatened newspapers, and watch companies suffered because of mobile phone displays. In my opinion, Innovative companies get so caught up in the love of themselves that their greatest enemy is themselves.
4. Believe that because everybody has always done it this way, it is the best way of doing the next “new” thing. Innovative companies think they are on to something “new,” but they are only reforming the old, which is a significant detriment when entering uncharted territory. I have been in the leadership of a large innovative church. This church has such large numbers that for them to go to new levels means they have no organizations to innovate. They will never achieve the next level unless they eliminate their innovative spirit. For instance, when America landed on the moon. Innovation built the rocket, the space suits, space food, etc. But innovation is not what Neil Armstrong could build off of when he put his hand on the door hatch, opened the door to outer space, and took his first step onto the moon’s surface. The spirit of discovery was required for Neil Armstrong to achieve something that had never been done before. You cannot innovate to enter the uncharted successfully. When your company is leading the way, and you choose to move forward through innovation, you just signed a contract that says you are guaranteed to no longer be in the first position and possibly just inked your death certificate. Suppose an innovative company has earned first place. In that case, it must transition to a Discovery mentality to enter uncharted territory.
5. Asking the customers for their opinions. An innovative company is good at answering customers’ questions while ignoring new prospects’ desires. The organization’s current customers have already bought into the company and do not need to be asked about their loyalty. The mistakes breed when the company’s leadership team, which has innovated its methods from an old idea, is now sitting around the table making decisions based on past success. The company makes decisions based on keeping their customers happy while new and unreached people need to be “Discovered!”
The spirit of innovation’s downfall is the team’s inability to innovate anymore because they would have to admit that their innovative idea “used” to be a good idea but is obsolete now. An innovative company never wants to acknowledge that its product no longer works. “Pride comes before the fall.”
Innovators work hard to appear correct, regardless of the actual results. It is fascinating to me that innovators love upward results. Still, when the results prove a downward trajectory, the innovator’s arrogance cannot admit that their innovation is no longer performing. “Every bad idea used to be a good idea!” Innovation always leads to an eventual dead end.
6. Stop taking ultimate risks. Large innovative companies tend only to take calculated risks based on past success. There is a difference between discovery risk and innovative risk.
Innovative Leaders are calculated risk-takers. The problem is that if you are the leading innovative company, which means nobody is ahead of you, you can’t calculate using your innovative spirit because there is nobody to innovate from in front of you. One can only discover from this point forward, and the risk required for an innovative company to shift into the spirit of discovery is terrifying.
Companies in the lead usually end up not being in the lead anymore because the leader ran out of ideas to innovate. The top dog company begins to focus on how much there is to lose, settle in on their success, and “play it safe.” It’s like a Pro football game. The game is close, and the winning team has the ball at the beginning of the 4th quarter. The offensive coordinator tries to protect the lead and thus changes the game plan from ‘playing to win’ to ‘playing not to lose.’ What usually happens when that game plan is employed? It’s called an upset.
What’s the solution? The leading company can only open themselves up to new learning experiences that make them feel uncertain and incompetent. Because there is nothing to innovate on, the leader must become like Neil Armstrong and begin to discover new! As my next post will describe, I call it the mentality of DISCOVERY.