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  • Anand Rao

Business Leader: Why Are You Waiting to Innovate?


Dear Business Leader,


When was the last time you tried something entirely new with the sole purpose of learning something different about the consumers of your product / service or challenging the status quo of transactional operations?


If you are a marketer, then you might say you did this more recently or that you do it all the time. But do you really?


Have you, for example, identified new customer segments / audiences and tested personalization or new offers that work best? Or have you experimented with connected TV and reduced your traditional TV budget?


If you are a technology leader, have you tried to collaborate with your peers in marketing to align dynamic pricing with new customer audiences? Or have you automated the deployment of new virtual machines?


If a CEO were to read this, she may say these are all the right areas to invest in. But why wait, dear colleague, for this to be a CEO mandate? Make it yours.


As a business leader, you don’t always have to be the one coming up with every creative, innovative idea. In fact, you may not see yourself as very creative. But creativity has nothing to do with it.


Be the good people leader that you are and make it the job of your teams to innovate. Let them see that it’s important to you by participating yourself. Grant them the permission and air cover to try new things and fail, create the right environment and give them the resources they need.


Your role is to create a “culture of innovation.”


There we go... two words that are by themselves ambiguous and loosey-goosey; together they make anyone’s eyes roll. So let’s define them.


Culture: the customs, arts, institutions and achievements of a social group.


Innovation: creative thoughts or new ideas in the form of methods or devices.


For the purposes of defining it in a business context (vs. society), let’s say that culture of innovation is defined as “the behaviors, organizations and tools adopted by a group of people to continuously generate new methods, products, or services that solve problems or satisfy unmet needs.”


Makes sense, you say, but how to do it?


Three areas require focus and need to work together in order to create this culture:


1.   Understanding of what problems to solve / unmet needs to satisfy

·       Customer orientation (vs. product)

·       Big problems to solve within your circle of influence

·       Framework to prioritize problems identified that works for your business


2.   Right environment or operating model to experiment (outside of daily operations)

·       Organization structure that enables small, multi-disciplinary teams

·       Methods and tools needed for teams to run in an agile way

·       Data infrastructure and reporting needed to measure outcomes in real-time


3.   Air cover from leadership

·       Executive permission for teams to experiment and fail (small and fast)

·       Means of capturing and institutionalizing learnings

·       Innovation dollars (budget for experimentation)


While there are ample frameworks and consultants that would help you with problem prioritization and operating model design, where you really need to lean-in is providing air cover. Depending on the size and structure of your department, your CEO and/or executive peers may need to buy in. You may need to start small and show some early wins before looking to scale. If you are fortunate, you may already have the budget and breathing room to start innovating.


Make it your mandate now, dear colleague, and watch as your teams become invigorated, your peers ask to collaborate with you, and your CEO hands you bigger challenges.


I’ll ask again — when was the last time you really tried something entirely new?


How about today?