3 Ingredients that Help Leaders Innovate

I’ve been fortunate throughout the majority of my career in that I have been consistently asked to innovate.

Whether I’ve been in operational roles and redesigning process, technical roles and delivering new solutions, or serving as CTO and re-branding entire companies I’ve had the opportunity to bring innovation, change, and new goodies to the table.

Unfortunately for a lot of people when they think of the word “innovator” they see a picture of Steve Jobs in their minds eye and resign themselves to thinking they could never be THAT good. (Hint: Steve probably wouldn’t have thought that way.) But the truth is that EVERYONE in a leadership position has the opportunity to be an innovator.

That doesn’t mean everyone has the skill set developed, or the desire, or maybe the need but every leader does have the opportunity to innovate, it’s part of the nature of leadership. So if opportunity IS knocking at your door let me suggest three ingredients that every innovator has to have in order to bring out the mad scientist.

1. A desire to break things
When I was about 5 my dad and I built a model helicopter, one of those plastic model kits that requires that stringy, smelly, Testors model glue. As soon as it was dry I broke it into pieces. I think in part to see if I could get it back to its original state and in part because I’d had fun putting it together with my dad. Needless to say he wasn’t as excited by my actions as I was.

Throughout most all of my life I’ve been taking apart stuff that has been labeled “I dunno, it just doesn’t work”: An old electronic vibrating football game, a car cassette player, (remember those?), a camera. If they didn’t work then there was no harm in taking them apart but if I DIDN’T take them apart there was no chance they’d work.

An innovator is someone who is willing to break something that isn’t working in order to make it work. (AND sometimes they’re even willing to break stuff that isn’t working as well as it should)

2. A desire to indulge dreams
How often have you said to yourself, “If only we could…” or “I wish there was a way to…” ? Innovators are the people that see inspiration in those statements. Non-innovators sigh deeply, shrug those ideas off and get back to the pile on their desk.

Innovators find sustenance in those kind of questions, blow out the wildest answers they can find, tear them down and build them back up again. They allow their minds to race ahead of their inner critic as though it were death on their heels.

As my younger brother, who actually IS a rocket scientist by education, used to say, “hey, define the limits…and start there.”

An innovator is someone who chases after their dreams to see where they lead.

3. A desire to make time
Innovators often run the risk of appearing to be lazy. If you come by my office and I’m leaning back in may chair with my feet are up on the desk I’m not sleeping. I’m imagining. (I sleep with my chin tucked to my chest facing my computer screen, it looks like deep thought.)

Th trick is that you don’t innovate in your spare time, unless inspiration hits you out of the blue. Spare time is your down time. You innovate on work time which means you have to have time in your work schedule to dream. If you don’t have time in your work schedule to dream as a leader…IT’S NOT WORKING. Break it apart and fix it.

An innovator is someone who make sure they have time in the schedule to dream.

Creativity, ideation, strategy, they’re all nice, but without the desire to break things, the desire to indulge dreams and the desire to make time you run the risk of merely creating prettier sameness.

What are some of the places you need to take a look at how you do business today and break it apart?


7 responses to “3 Ingredients that Help Leaders Innovate

  1. …to quote myself (what I just texted you), something one doesn’t do often, but can’t help myself today! 🙂

    EXCEPTIONAL blog post today…eXcEpTiOnAl…will be passing it on in several places. Did I already say this? ExCePtIoNaL…….! Yes………..!!!

    …now go read my blog post and see what more I said about you…because I believe what I said about you.

  2. That is a great post.

    One of my roles is a security consultant where I do penetration testing of software. In this role having a desire to break things is key. That is the only way that you can really find the limits of a product or process. Push it beyond its capabilities.

    I’ve always thought that the same is true of other parts of life. You have hit the nail on the head with that and the other two points.

    • Thanks Andrew!
      You’re fortunate in that you get to do work that REQUIRES you to think in innovative ways. Having that training ground to develop those skills makes it quite normal to apply them in the “other parts of life”.

  3. Great post. I’ve saved it so I can look at this constantly. This will help me with the work that I do.

    PS I am here because Michael Hyatt endorsed this on a tweet.

  4. Bravo! 3 necessary ingredients to innovation. I would add:
    A “leader” gives permission to the team to break things, provides space for the team to indulge dreams, and plans time for them to do this. A leader knows we can do so much more together than alone!

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