Leadership and the many faces of innovation


Leadership and the many faces of innovation


Author: Ervin Picari

Our third workshop of the Building Business Leaders of Future programme focused on the relationship between leadership and innovation and more specifically, the role leadership plays in enabling innovative thinking in an organisation. Delivered by Mike Cook and Bonnie Austin from EY, in conjunction with the Aston Centre for Growth.

Innovation has been the buzz word of the last two decades. It has been used to describe new ways of doing things, a creative way of thinking and more. In business, Innovation is defined as ‘the successful commercialisation of new ideas’ – including both new to your firm and new to the market.

Contrary to general belief, innovation does not have to be something ground-breaking and most innovative ideas are not (there are however, ground-breaking ideas such as nanotechnology, 3D printing AI and more).

The most successful innovators are those that have introduced a novel way of providing a service or doing business in the market. Take Uber as an example; the taxi service system has existed since cars were invented but by using technology, Uber brought a new novel way for consumers to access that service and that is in the process, revolutionising that industry.

Innovation is open to all and technology has made it easier for businesses to innovate. It is often the case that most innovative ideas have come from smaller organisations. This is due to scarcity of resources and smaller organisations being more agile.

For small businesses that want to be innovative, innovation should mean;

  • Finding a better way of doing something in your business that separates you from the competition.
  • Solving a problem that you have in your business.
  • Being curious about finding new solutions that help you grow.
  • Doing what works for you and is relevant for your business.
Innovation and Leadership

The relationship between leadership and innovation is an intrinsic one because business leaders are the ones that make the decisions that will affect the company in the short or the long term.

The business environment is constantly changing as a result of technology, and disruption in the market is altering the way business leaders deal with their businesses. Therefore, the concept of leadership itself is also shifting from a traditional shareholder value to a more customer societal value.

Taking all these factors into consideration, business leaders must be ahead of the proverbial curve if they want their organisation to survive and grow. Therefore, it is important that they look for ways to innovate. But, before starting that journey as a business leader, you must first;

  • Know your users or consumers and establish what is desirable for them.
  • Establish if innovation is viable for the business in terms of growth. Does it help your bottom line?
  • Identify if the use of technology is feasible.
Creating a Culture of Innovation

Everyone’s journey to innovate is unique and there are many factors that contribute to that journey; however, one key ingredient is creating a culture of innovation in your organisation. Very seldom innovation comes from the top, and as a leader you need to create the right environment that allows new ideas to flourish.

Changing the culture of your organisation can be a daunting task as prevailing norms will need time to shift, but despite the complexity it can be evolved in three simple steps;

1.     Understand – Your purpose and culture today, what you have and where are you going (and why)

2.     Align – Leaders, people and the organisation to your purpose and culture. Amplify strength and align around growth. Know what you need to grow and how you want to get there

3.     Evolve – Amplify and enable behaviours and news ways of working