What’s the secret sauce of innovation? Lots has been written to answer that question. Our take is: There is no secret sauce. That is, there’s no “one size fits all” kind of sauce out there. There’s only your own secret sauce. And its particular flavour depends on the main dish.
The main ingredient
But whatever turns yours into your very own secret sauce, the main ingredients are you and your people. People who are courageous enough to know their fears, and take a risk anyway. Who contribute their creative genius and insights to the team. People who are relaxed and creative, because they feel safe. Who don’t mind being challenged, because they know that their leader and team unconditionally support and value them.
The #1 innovation killer
A safe space is key to any innovation and change. Else, everyone will avoid risk. And that’s bad news, for innovation IS risk taking. As an innovator you’re literally stepping into pitch black darkness: You’re trying something that hasn’t been tried before. You have no way of knowing whether it’ll work or not. It doesn’t get more vulnerable than that. Just imagine yourself: You’re putting out a novel idea that might work or not, and in any case how others judge it is out of your control. If your idea is embraced by your key stakeholders, you’re investing people’s time and money to essentially experiment. Your idea will either fly or implode. Think of all the eyes turned on you then. You need a fail-safe space for that. And so do those you lead. That’s why psychological safety is key to innovation and change alike.
The Innovation F-Bomb
Fear of losing control of the outcome is why leaders and followers alike shy away from stepping into the unknown. As much as it is encouraged with words, innovation takes courage, because it entails failure. If you never fail, you’re not innovating. Hence stems the Design Thinking mantra to “Fail early and often to succeed sooner”. It celebrates failure so as to enable innovators to be creative and experiment. While the mantra sounds cool, it’s rarely lived. Designing how to deal with failure, with the team or the whole organisation, is an important step in bringing about an innovation culture. Modelling the celebration of failure turns this new culture into a lived one. That’s where the rubber meets the road.
The Elephant in the Room
Alas, most corporate cultures, and most individuals, still believe that failing equals being a failure. Our schools don’t invite failing forward. They play a pivotal role in socialising us into a culture of black and white, right and wrong, good marks and bad marks. This haunts us all throughout life, in every social context. The need to look successful is a widespread reactive pattern that makes innovation impossible.
Some don’t dare step up with ideas and suggestions. They have a point-of-view, but they don’t offer it. While self-confidence helps with putting up your hand, too much of it leads to hubris. And hubris leads to loss of connection in the team – and ultimately to innovation teams breaking apart. You don’t want people who push their own agenda or people who hold back something to gain a competitive advantage. That behaviour causes a huge problem, because innovation is a team sport. All team members are needed to hit the goal. This lack of team playing is not just a problem at the very top of organisations. It also happens within teams at every level. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Innovation needs everyone to be a leader
That’s why self-leadership is a must on every level, not just at the top. A lack of self-leadership and team sportsmanship are the major roadblocks to innovation. Not the perceived lack of creativity. Everyone is creative. Just like everyone is a natural leader. However, not everyone is stepping into their leadership.
Yet, for breakthrough innovation and its implementation on a broader scale, leadership is needed from everyone on the team and in the organisation. Occasionally you need to lead from the front, with a vision or a decision. Often you need to lead from the side, to enthusiastically support someone else’s idea as if it was your own. Sometimes you need to lead from the back to support someone who struggles or someone who needs support to tap into their full potential. At all times you need to lead from the field. You need to hear and observe both the spoken and unspoken, and to create from what is needed in this moment. The Co-Active® leadership model we work with comprises all of these situational leadership stances.
Innovation and self-leadership
Self-leadership is at the heart of all co-creation and innovation. Only from a creative space can people collaborate wholeheartedly. When they are reactive, resistance rises and destroys collaboration. Building on that, a strong design of how to support and hold one another accountable enables teams to go through highs and lows without giving up, undermining each other, or making rash decisions. And it helps you and your team to turn friction into sparks of innovation.
How about your own secret sauce of innovation?
What ingredient might be missing in your own secret sauce of innovation? Reach out if you’re ready to explore what’s possible for your organisation.
We help you get from top down to collaborative leadership and make innovation and change successful.