On Leadership

Are innovation leaders born or made? I just finished my first summer class of the year and was left with some great thoughts on Leadership. Our professor, David Hirschey made interesting points and asked several pointed questions that got me (and the rest of class) thinking.

Q: What is innovation? A: The application of creativity 

Hirschey posed this question to the class and few had a solid answer. I like his concise way of defining innovation and I think he’s spot on. I love to think of new ideas: a freeway system of driverless pod-cars; windows that capture energy like solar panels; or sharks with lasers – but these are just fun and creative thoughts. Once I sell my first laser-shark to the military, then I’m an innovator.

Q: Are leaders born or made? A: Umm...made? 

Okay, he didn’t really answer but because he’s a behaviorist he must believe they are made, right? Behaviorists posit that people can learn to become a leader through guidance and observation and that you should focus on future leaders mental qualities and internal states to drive change.

A similar question – are innovation leaders born or made? Again, I believe that you may be naturally creative, but if you are going to be an innovator, you have to work to get your product to market in a meaningful way. You have to desire change, and work to influence those around you (your followers) towards a common goal. We chatted for a bit on whether or not it’s okay to be manipulative or Machiavellian as a leader. My thought is that if your groups end goal is justifiable and virtuous in some way shape or form, you should use all reasonable (no poking or prodding please) methods to encourage behaviors that create the change necessary for success.

Statement: human capital should focus on onboarding and performance management.

This thought makes perfect sense to me. You have one chance to make a first impression and if you screw it up you’ll never get it back. Once you’ve made that first impression, its up to you to get the most out of your employees and retain them. This statement has a perfect parallel into innovation. You have one chance to go to market with your new product - make sure you do it right. If you fumble around, deliver a buggy product, and leave users wanting more they will move on. Similarly, once you’ve got your product out there, continue to refine the product in a way that ensures users believe you still care about them. You can do this by fixing the issues they bring up online or through your operations call centers and ensuring that iteration 2 of your product is more aligned with how your first user base wanted to use the product.

Q: What’s the problem with common sense? A: It’s not that common.

It seems like we could ask the same thing about disruptive innovation…