Innovation by Example

Jan 24, 2019

By John Baldoni

During the past recession, innovation has been on hold in many organizations given the high cost a mistake in critical judgment can make. As the economy improves, competitive advantage may come from corporate ability to continually improve existing products to meet customer needs or satisfy their wants with new products or services.

Fostering innovation is not easy, and there are many factors involved—environment, people, situation, and circumstance. However, one thing is certain within a business environment—commitment from the top. Not all leaders are personally creative, but if they work in a company that survives on innovation—or needs to change—then they must find ways to enable their people to be creative.

We can learn from other companies how to be creative and successfully innovate. Here are some guidelines from successful innovators.

Knock down walls. Tom Kelley, general manager of Ideo, the design firm, told Fast Company that “the buzz of creativity (needs) to flow through your office as regularly as a breeze at the beach.” Ideo develops ideas with teams of diverse skill sets; such differences mean that people come to the table with differing perspectives that, if properly channeled, can lead to good design. Ideo’s design success with its products in electronics, computers, and furniture, as well as a pen-like syringe for injecting insulin, make it a name to be reckoned with when it comes to applied innovation.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Not every new idea is a good one. But many new ideas may have the germ of something that when combined with another idea will make something very special. Leadership plays a special role in this process. Leaders put the right people on the team, and then let them brainstorm.

Look outside the walls. Dr. Peter S. Kim, senior researcher at Merck, raised eyebrows when he joined Merck and started bringing in new people to head research, busting up a culture that may have grown hidebound. Merck, according to the Wall Street Journal, had prided itself on developing all of its own drugs internally, unlike other pharmaceutical companies, which have long bought promising drugs from smaller startup ventures. Kim’s push for collaboration with outside partners also challenged Merck’s “not invented here” culture. Merck was forced to become less “arrogant” with potential new partners, a plus for an attempt at innovation.

Soak it in. Chris Bangle, the chief designer at BMW and responsible for the redesign of the entire line, said, “Humans need time to get used to newness, even if they themselves have created it.” That’s where leadership comes in and assures the team that things are right as they are and no more tweaking is necessary. Tinkering for its own sake is counterproductive and that’s where it helps to have a strong hand on the helm who can say when to move forward, or when to go back to the drawing board.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Lead by Example: 5 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Results by John Baldoni. Copyright 2009, John Baldoni. Published by AMACOM, American Management Association division.

About the Author(s)

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership consultant, speaker, and author. In 2007, he was named one of the "30 Most Influential Leadership Gurus" by Leadership Gurus International.