How leaders win with strategic innovation
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
As modern leaders are aware, risk and uncertainty are on the rise today, and making mistakes is currently the No. 1 fear in the workplace. But if your organization wants to continually change, adapt and reinvent itself to strategically innovate and evolve in tune with changing times, it's worth noting that we must become comfortable with all of these factors and constantly seek ways to mitigate them.
Granted, a certain level of discomfort will always be present in any new venture — but as leading change management practitioners know, our worries can also serve as powerful motivators, indicators of new opportunities and driving forces that fuel continuing innovation.
As an extension of our research and consulting work with Fortune 500 corporations, industry-leading startups and top-ranked associations, we've come to discover three common predictors of success among associations, organizations and individuals that excel at change management:
1. It's OK to fail: Failure plays a vital role in strategic innovation, and leaders must recognize its importance in providing fundamental learning opportunities. Making mistakes and systematically trying new approaches is how businesses, brands and people learn.
2. Make a choice: Leaders must accept the need for firm decision-making in the all-too-common presence of imperfect information. Successful leaders hold strong, but weakly-held opinions, allowing them to drive forward momentum, yet remain flexible and able to course-correct as new information is gained.
3. Live with fear: Good leaders must have a willingness to accept the presence of and live with constant fear. Through conscious decision-making, we must make a commitment to counter anxieties that induce paralysis, force us to erect self-imposed limits or blind us to new opportunities. Doubt and uncertainty are always present for these individuals or businesses — they're simply risks to be weighed and mitigated, and cease to act as barriers to action. Braveness comes with this realization: Stepping outside one's comfort zone may seem scary, but remaining static in an ever-changing world is never a winning choice.
Certainty is never certain, and failure is merely a temporary learning experience on our path to success. Individuals and organizations would do well to contemplate the tremendous opportunity costs associated with fear — the single biggest inhibitor to strategic innovation today.
Fear causes us to remain paralyzed and static. Meanwhile, everything is changing around us — that's the equivalent of operating on cruise control while steering straight for a brick wall.
Taking risks gives you an edge. While it's easier to avoid that which we fear as an association or enterprise, taking on difficult tasks lets us build capabilities and talents that other organizations won't possess (and ones with greater value) because they have shied away.
Even if you fail, you'll learn something. Failure is just a stepping stone to success, as win conditions exist in all scenarios. Even if an endeavor didn't ultimately succeed, did you make new contacts, pick up new skills or learn something of value? The more we fail fast and cost-effectively, the sooner we learn about how our business environment and how well our strategies are working in tune with it so we can constantly course-correct and adapt.
The unknown is rife with opportunity. The modern workplace trains us as organizations and individuals to prize perfection — but the closer we get to it, the more our efforts produce diminishing returns. Instead, it pays to take a leap and look for places to soar where there are no ceilings, and hence no limit to our potential to learn, grow and innovate on an infinite scale.
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