When I work with leaders and managers around innovation I always ask them 3 questions:

1. What does innovation mean at your business?

This is important because innovation can mean different things to different people so it is a good idea to define exactly what we are talking about.

2. How will you measure innovation?

This flows from the first question.

If you have defined innovation (e.g. At 3M, for example, it means new products) then it makes sense to measure innovation in these terms.

In fact, they aim for 30-40% of their revenue growth to come from sales of new products that are less than 3 years old.

3. What is your ‘why innovate’ story?

Because innovation involves trial and error, change and sometimes failure I believe all leaders need to give their followers a reason why they should embark on this journey.

This story should be urgent, compelling and believable.

To use 3M again, their story revolves around the fact that they need to innovate to stave off the challenge of house  and private label brands.

In my doctoral research one of the most noticeable features of the 3M leadership team was their use of stories.

Each of the people I interviewed seemed to have their own version of an Art Fry story (the inventor of Post-It notes).

The stories always conveyed messages around how difficult innovation is yet with courage, imagination and perseverance they managed to have a success.

These types of stories are very powerful.

They are personal, intimate and motivating.

The key message?

If you want to start innovating all leaders need to develop and be able to communicate their own why innovate story.

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