Real Leaders

The 6 Conditions That Drive Innovation

Innovation is not only interesting, it’s crucial for business growth. Peter Drucker said that “Business has only two functions: marketing and innovating.” Teams in companies all around the world are required to be “innovative.” However, this is easier said than done.

While the human element of the innovation process is the most critical, complex, and dynamic part, it’s often overlooked when teams are laser-focused on product development. 

Having a lot of ideas does not mean you’re an innovator. Innovating is not an individual effort; innovation is an outcome from a multitude of actors. I define innovation as “a valuable new idea put into practice/ practical use, shared, scaled and sustained to transform the ways we live and work.” Without all these steps, ideas and inventions are just “nice-to-haves,” not transformative innovations.

According to KPMG’s benchmarking research into innovation (2018, 2020), deeply human qualities are regarded as the main obstacles to innovation: office politics, turf wars, and lack of alignment. This, again, underlies the human – even personal – nature of innovation. The energy that runs through the process of innovation is profoundly human. Having produced several innovation summits, coached, and interviewed countless executives and entrepreneurs, a model for coaching the innovativeness emerged. 

A model of six concepts that begin with the letter C helps to identify the areas where competency is crucial for innovative individuals and teams. It’s people who keep creating and whose collective energy keeps the innovation process alive. I call it “innovativeness.” Human innovativeness is about “applying creativity in service of innovation.” 

Personal Conditions for Innovativeness: Curiosity & Courage

Without curiosity, without somebody asking, Why? Why not? What if? We would have stayed in caves. In an interview for my research, Nora Denzel, who was the CEO of Redbox, said that she has to learn the most important questions quickly in her role as a turnaround CEO. It’s an art to be curious and to ask good questions.

Curiosity is the quality of the brave. It takes courage to create. Innovating is about exploring the unknown, making bets, and taking risks. It can also be exhausting and make people fearful.

Relationship Conditions for Innovativeness: Communication & Collaboration

A teams internal communication skills become crucial when they are working under financial and time pressures. The long-term success of innovation hinges on communication – internally and externally.  

Innovation is not something that’s born in isolation. Innovations are outcomes of co-creation, but collaboration is not easy. When communication and collaboration fail, the innovation process is doomed. Creativity thrives in inclusive and brave environments. 

Organizational Conditions for Innovativeness: Collective Intelligence & Culture

Companies where people actively share knowledge, skills, and energy are at an advantage. Various crowdsourcing and collaboration platforms that help employees, customers, and other stakeholders to contribute, harvest, and nurture ideas are invaluable. Besides aiding in communicating and collaboration, they’re useful in trend and pattern recognition. These are the seeds for new thinking and innovation.

Organizational culture either nourishes innovation or kills it. Much of the culture is invisible; among others, it consists of thinking, beliefs, assumptions, and values that drive decision making. Furthermore, an organization’s innovation culture can be witnessed in the way people talk and how people are rewarded (or punished) for their efforts – successes and failures. There is a vast difference between posting a motivational slogan for innovation and implementing practices that support innovation. 

Most people agree that innovation requires excellent analytical and technical skills to prototype, test, and learn from feedback. However, rarely enough attention is paid to human life energy, our emotions, that sustain the excitement about the process – even when our hypotheses don’t pan out. It’s human emotions that either energize or suppress each of these six conditions – or energize or suppress innovation.  

According to research by McKinsey (2019), “Innovation, at its heart, is a resource-allocation problem; it’s not just about creativity and generating ideas. Yet too many leaders talk up the importance of innovation as a catalyst for growth and then fail to act when it comes to shifting people, assets, and management attention in support of their best ideas.”

Therefore, instead of considering the six C’s as optional “soft skills” they must be regarded as essential conditions that require serious attention and allocation of proper resources. Strategically increasing skills and competency to fulfill the six conditions dramatically increases the innovativeness quotient of teams and organizations. 

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