Last week I wrote a piece expressing my frustration with the scale of excuse-making that prevails across the corporate landscape. As I indicated, this is not just my frustration, but also that of leading consultants and business school professors. However, as I will set out in 2014 to demonstrate with my new colleagues at Entera + Partners, leadership is of course possible. It simply requires a certain type of leadership commitment that has the vision, the spine, and the imagination to nurture new forms of products, services, business models, and processes from inception to commercialization.
Two illustrative examples of innovation leadership are Jeffrey Immelt at G.E. and A.G. Lafley at P&G. Central to their effective innovation leadership is the willingness to look outside of the company, and allow the evolving needs and aspirations of customers to guide the process. The what, when, and why of innovation sit there. The how of innovation rests with you, inside your company. While each industry and each business is different, it is imperative to start in the world as it is being experienced by your customers.
As for the role of top management, this requires top leaders to get out of the corner office and spend quality time with customers, suppliers, and young talent. No amount of top-tier MBAs or pedigrees will provide a connection with the zeitgeist of your customers like actual human interaction.
Above all else, the starting point is humility. No one person or team always has all the answers. Mark Parker summarizes this approach when he quotes his grandmother’s life philosophy. “Be a sponge. Curiosity is life. Assumption is death. Look Around.”
This kind of humility is not easy, of course. But a new year is around the corner, and new things are, despite my thoughts from last week, always possible.