Virtual Leadership can still be innovative.
“Are you can Innovator?” — Ratdesign.de
At every conference — before the pandemic — there was some whip-smart techno geek (meant affectionally, I was a “nerd” in my day!) declaring that you must “innovate or die”. But do we really need more innovators?
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Innovation as a term is not as complicated as we might think. In some ways it has gained an almost unrealistic mythos and the idea of innovation either intimidates organisations, or forces people who stick to the tried and true methods because they just don’t know where to start. Or at worst it becomes a nonsense new catch-phrase or term used to refer to anything new.
“Many people believe that innovators have innate genius. If you weren’t born with it, you’ll never be an innovator. I disagree. My 25 years as entrepreneur and innovator have shown me that anyone can become an innovator.” — Richard Branson
The fact is that innovation doesn’t have to be a mind-blowing unicorn or a new technology at all, it can be the creation or development of a new product or new technology, but it can also be a new process or service with the aim of improving things, i.e. doing things better than we were doing them before! Not so complicated right?
The government of New Zealand defines innovation as the “successful exploitation of new ideas”, which means we need to increase ideation in companies, blue-sky thinking, and then merge ideas and build upon ideas to create more efficiency, effectiveness or a competitive advantage for our business.
“The characteristic of great innovators and great companies is they see a space that others do not. They don’t just listen to what people tell them; they actually invent something new, something that you didn’t know you needed, but the moment you see it, you say, ‘I must have it’.” — Eric Schmidt
And herein lies the crux for many people. They immediately jump to the “invention” being defined as technology and often think of technology before they think of strategy. Instead we need to ask ourselves some key questions before implementing ideas:
What is the problem we are trying to solve?
What does the customer need?
What can we develop or build to meet that need?
What is the use case for the technology we are looking to implement?
It does not make sense to make a process efficient that we actually don’t need any more, or to improve a product that may not be required in the coming years. The auto industry continues to struggle to shift their priorities as Transport as a Service (TaaS e.g. Uber) becomes more prevalent and autonomous driving penetrates the mainstream.
The pillars of innovation are ideas and inspiration and those only come from great leaders. So if we want our companies to be more innovative, we need more innovative leaders; leaders who have the ability to turn new ideas (and technologies) into assets that will transform their businesses, and, by extension, our economy.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” — Steve Jobs
Virtual work and virtual leadership are not a barrier, in fact the physical space from the team may create more interesting ideas spurred from the homestead or co-working space, to be shared on the next Zoom conference. As a virtual leader you can put a problem on the virtual board and ask your team to ideate around it. Run one session this week where you share a problem statement, that allows you to talk about the ideas brought to the table and create the best solution together to solve that problem.
In the end, innovation has little to do with flashy conference presentations or exciting case studies. We need to take innovation down from the presentation screen and take it into working life, create real use cases, and solve real problems or serve real needs.
Leaders first and foremost need to inspire people, to give them room to create, ideate, and thereby…change the world.
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To kick start innovation on your teams, try our Innovators Box