Leadership, Team Building

Creating a Culture of Innovation Starts With the Leader

The leader plays a critical role in creating the right environment for innovation to flourish.

Influencing innovation and ideas at the organizational level.
There are many strategic ways leaders can influence the flow of innovation and ideas at the level of organizational design that goes beyond the lame suggestion box. Here are three proven approaches.

1. Acknowledge and reward innovation.
Promoting innovation and ideas should be on every leader´s scorecard. Employees should be encouraged to look at their daily tasks through an innovative lens, and they should be acknowledged and rewarded for innovative ideas. Compensation and gift giving is standard practice in progressive organizations such as Zappos.

2. Inject creativity with acquisitions.
Vijay Govindarajan has written about how organizations can inject creativity and innovation into their organizations through joint ventures and acquisitions. Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, for example, revitalized Disney´s creative juices.

3. Dedicate time to innovation.
In 1948, 3M launched its 15 percent program, where 15 percent of employees’ time was dedicated to innovation. The Post-It note was invented during 15 percent time. Organizations such as Hewlett-Packard and Google have both replicated this approach. Gmail and Google Earth were conceived during Google’s 20 percent time.

Influencing innovation and ideas at the personal level.
Oftentimes leaders focus on strategically influencing innovation at the organizational level and can overlook the key role it can play in influencing a culture of openness and ideas through interpersonal effectiveness. Here are some ways leaders can encourage and role model openness and increase the flow of ideas through the way they interact with employees.

Business innovation concept

1. Increase dialogue.
Very often leaders talk about engaging with others through debate and discussion. These three verbs have very unfavorable etymologies. To engage, from the old French engagier, means to bind by promise or oath; to debate, from the old French debatre, means to beat; and to discuss has its origins in the Latin discutere, meaning to smash or break up.

Dialogue, on the other hand, comes from Greek dialogos, denoting flow of meaning. This is not just semantic pedantry, it gets to the heart of what effective modern leaders do – they broaden perspective, and they facilitate a flow of ideas through shared inquiry.

According to William Issacs, dialogue is a way of thinking and reflecting together. It is not something you do to another person. It is something you do with people.

Leaders can sometimes get carried away by their own status and positional power and feel duty-bound to challenge ideas, and keep everything on track. This closes down innovation. Ideas cannot flow when everyone is arm wrestling; ideas flow when people are curious, inquiring and openly expressing their ideas.

Leaders should recognize that dialogue is key to innovation, and they should be encouraging, cultivating and role modelling shared thinking.

2. Suspend assumptions and judgements.
To assume and infer is to process data through our own interpretative lens.

Leaders need to consciously suspend their natural inclination to add layers of meaning and inference to ideas. Critical observation in early ideation closes down innovative thinking.

Two powerful tools that help leaders suspend judgement and remain receptive to new ideas include Chris Argyris’ Ladder of Inference and Edward do Bono’s Six Thinking Hats.

3. Actively listen.
Mark Twain famously remarked, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.”

A key way leaders can inspire people to produce ideas is to take time to actively listen to them. It sounds obvious, but giving someone space to develop their ideas creates a respectful environment, where people feel comfortable expressing themselves.

When leaders are constantly interrupting, talking over ideas, finishing sentences and projecting negative body language, it breaks the creative flow and deters innovation. Rather than giving a person a good talking to, give them a good listening to.

Innovation is key to competitive advantage and growth. The 2016 Global Innovation Index, which is an annual ranking of the innovation capabilities and performance of economies around the world, focuses on national policies, but it’s individual leaders who can make a difference by driving innovation within organizations and creating a conducive environment for innovation to thrive.

Innovation stories, Leadership, Team Building

Innovation Lessons From Michelangelo | Business Innovation Factory

Michelangelo wasn’t a one-trick pony or a one-hit wonder. He was the archetype Renaissance artist, accomplished as a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. Michelangelo produced iconic works, across disciplines, throughout the 88 years of his life. Many of Michelangelo’s works are still among the world’s most recognized and appreciated art ever created, five hundred years later, including the Pieta, David, and Sistine Chapel.


It’s hard to argue that Michelangelo wasn’t a genius and that he didn’t leverage his creative superpower to gain the right notoriety and sponsorships. It doesn’t hurt when Lorenzo de’ Medici invites you to live in his Florence palace! But something else is going on when Michelangelo sustains his production at such an amazingly high level across so many disciplines over almost a century. Michelangelo shared his secret on the celebration of his 87th birthday, just a year before he died, proclaiming, Ancora Imparo: Yet I Am Learning.


Michelangelo gave us incredible works of art but he also gave us the most important innovation insight and lesson. Learning curve matters above all else. Michelangelo is my new innovation hero and Ancora Imparo is my new innovation mantra. In a rapidly changing world, learning and reinvention are the most important life skills. Not just when we’re young but throughout our lives. Innovators thrive on the steepest part of the learning curve where the changing rate of learning is the greatest. Watch how innovators, like Michelangelo, manage their careers and lives. They always put themselves on a steep learning curve. I know I always have.

Staying on a steep learning curve is the most important decision criterion for any career decision an innovator makes. Along the way, innovators make many career moves, none of which are primarily about titles, offices, number of direct reports, or money. Innovators believe those things are more likely to happen if they keep themselves on steep learning curves. Every choice to take a new tack or direction is about the next learning curve. Innovators are self aware enough to know they do their best work while learning at a rapid rate and are bored to tears when they aren’t. Steep learning curves matter most.

I have known many people who sacrificed learning curves for money and other extrinsic rewards, and in the long run most ended up unhappy. In my experience, innovators who follow their instincts and are in it for the learning always end up happier and making more money anyway.

Innovators always intuitively know when to leap from one learning curve to the next. They get restless when any curve starts to flatten out. Instead of enjoying the flat part of the curve where it takes less effort to produce more output, innovators get bored and want to find new learning curves where they can benefit from a rapidly changing rate of learning.

If the goal for innovators is to get better faster, the only way to accomplish it is to live on the edge where the knowledge flows are the richest. It isn’t the most comfortable place to be.

It’s understandable why most people only suffer the pain of the steep part of the learning curve, not for the kick of learning, but to finally reach the flat part of the curve. Once arriving it’s easy to plant a flag, claim victory, and to camp there with no sense of urgency to move to another curve once the plateau is reached. It is comfortable on the flat part of the curve where the workload lessens and rewards are only available to those that have paid their dues and put in the time to scale the curve.

Yet innovators seem to extract what they need from the steep part of the curve and leap off to do it again, moving on to the steep part of the next curve just when the effort required to further climb the current curve gets easier.

Innovators are less interested in squeezing marginal value from continuing to scale existing learning curves than finding the next learning curve to climb. They take what they have learned from each curve and cross-pollinate other curves with their interdisciplinary experiences. Think Michelangelo. Innovators are disruptive to those who think they can continue to hang on to a single learning curve throughout their careers and lives. Ideas from each learning curve are combined and recombined to create amazing art, new ways to deliver value, and to solve the most important problems we face.

Staying on a learning curve as the rate of learning slows down is no way to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. It won’t work for people, organizations, or communities. We are all vulnerable to being disrupted and far too many of our fellow citizens already have been. We would all do well to take an innovation lesson from Michelangelo.

Ancora Imparo, Yet I Am Learning, is the new innovation mantra. Optimize for learning. Always.

Saul Kaplan: Innovation Lessons From Michelangelo | Business Innovation Factory

Leadership, Team Building

Pope Francis’s message to world leaders at TED talk – video

Pope Francis “The Pope of Innovation” made a surprise appearance at a TED talk conference, urging powerful leaders “to act humbly” and said he hoped technological innovation would not leave people behind. The 18-minute video was filmed in Vatican City and broadcast to the audience at the annual TED 2017 conference in Vancouver.