The new innovation leader

N°237b – Synopsis (8p.) – Innovation Strategy
The new innovation leader
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Innovation is often seen as the work of a visionary genius. Yet, other innovation leadership models exist that are more accessible. How can leaders create an environment conducive to the creativity of their teams?

Some companies have shown over time an uncommon ability to innovate. An emblematic example is Apple, whose success is generally presented as the work of a visionary and tyrannical genius. Such models can be truly inspiring, but appear difficult to replicate—particularly since they very often prove to be a far cry from both what we feel capable of doing and what we want to be.

Pixar provides a quite different model, however. This animation studio’s capacity for innovation is recognized to be remarkable. Every Pixar film is a technical feat and attests to surprising creativity. The artistic director, John Lasseter, is certainly demanding. He was able to throw out six months of work on Toy Story 2 which he felt was “just okay,” rather than excellent. But he acts more as a talent catalyst than a creative genius. He shares his doubts with his teams, and talks with them about the psychology of the characters or the story line, etc. Pixar’s retention rate, by the way, is excellent: employees stay on board, film after film, and attract other talent around them.

Equating the creativity of a business with the leader’s genius is a misleading intellectual shortcut. In reality, innovation greatly derives from a collective dynamic. Indeed, it is often practically impossible to retrace the thread of a brilliant idea, which generally emerges from the combination of a number of more or less developed ideas that have been successively tested and improved by various people. However, this team momentum is difficult to create. Collective brainstorming is often disappointing, because proposals are watered down by the fear of failure or of being judged by others, as well as by the tendency to conform. The leader thus plays an important role in creating the conditions to foster these team dynamics.

The innovation leader is not necessarily a creative genius. He or she is above all someone who can create an environment where people take the risk of making mistakes and dare to suggest new ideas. He or she also catalyzes interactions which serve to improve upon and then implement these ideas.

In this synopsis:
- Innovate better by bringing together opposing styles
- Explore inhabitual facets of leadership in order to innovate
- Recognize failure as a driver of innovation

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