Leading an Innovative Team

Creativity and innovation are crucial for driving growth and staying competitive in today’s rapidly evolving world. Most people would say that’s true especially for companies that manufacture products. But it’s true for all organizations; for profit companies, nonprofit organizations and government entities. 

Change is everywhere and it’s picking up stream. AI is rapidly changing everything. Everything! An organization’s ability to apply AI in the near future will determine their ability to survive. The ability to adapt and apply the benefits of AI will require unparalleled creativity and innovation. That will add to the pressure on leadership teams everywhere. 

So here are a ten strategies to encourage and support creativity and innovation within your team. 

  • Create a work environment that values and encourages creativity. Ensure team members feel safe to express their ideas without fear of judgment or criticism. Encourage open communication, collaboration, and a culture of experimentation.
  • Clearly define the team’s goals and objectives while allowing room for creative problem-solving and innovation. Provide a sense of direction and purpose to guide your team’s efforts towards innovative solutions. Remember, even if something is not done “your way” doesn’t mean it wasn’t done the best way. 
  • Embrace diversity within your team, including diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets. Diverse perspectives bring fresh ideas and approaches to the table. That fosters creativity and innovation. Encourage open discussions, active listening, and the sharing of different viewpoints. If everyone is thinking the same then it’s very likely that most of them aren’t thinking. 
  • Promote a culture of continuous learning and professional development. Provide opportunities for team members to acquire new skills, attend workshops or conferences, and explore new areas of knowledge. Encourage individuals to share their learnings with the team.
  • Provide autonomy and ownership to team members in their work. Trust their judgment and empower them to make decisions and take calculated risks. Encourage initiative and give individuals the freedom to explore their ideas.
  • Set aside dedicated time for creative thinking and innovation. Allow team members to work on passion projects or explore new ideas outside their usual responsibilities. Consider implementing brainstorming sessions, hackathons, or innovation workshops to stimulate creativity. Creativity takes time, as a leader it’s up to you to provide that time. 
  • Acknowledge and reward innovative ideas and solutions within the team. Recognize and celebrate team members who contribute innovative ideas or demonstrate creative problem-solving. This can be done through public recognition, rewards, or even small incentives. Even small ideas can turn into big successes. 
  • Ensure that your team has the necessary resources, tools, and support to pursue their creative ideas. This may include providing access to research materials, funding for experiments or prototypes, or allocating that dedicated time for innovation projects.
  • Encourage a mindset that views failure as an opportunity for growth and learning. Create a culture where team members feel comfortable taking risks and learning from their mistakes. Encourage reflection and sharing of lessons learned from both successful and unsuccessful endeavors.

Remember, leading creative and innovative teams is an ongoing process. You should continually assess and adapt your strategies based on the dynamics of your team. Keep in mind the changing business landscape as well. By creating an environment that nurtures and supports creativity, you can unlock the full innovative potential of your team and use AI to it’s full potential too.

The Power of an Idea

Linus Pauling said that the best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. I think I agree with that …. mostly. I say mostly because I’m not sure an idea can be considered good until somebody does something with it. 

Lots of people have good ideas, and lots of those people never do anything with them. 

One challenge with having an idea is that it takes courage to share it. The bigger the idea the more courage it takes.

Which brings us to Craig McCaw. Mr. McCaw is an idea man. I don’t know this for sure but I’d bet he has had lots of ideas, some good, some not so good. But one idea he had that turned out to be something of a success was the wild idea of a cellular phone. 

As a pioneer of the cellular industry and the founder of McCaw Cellular, now part of AT&T, he envisioned a time when a person would have one phone number that followed them wherever they went. That was a crazy idea, a big idea and an idea he had the courage to share. 

It was also an idea that worked. Today your cellular phone will work around the world, same number, following you wherever you go. 

One reason it worked, maybe the biggest reason, is that he had the courage to give voice to his ideas. He was willing to risk looking silly, or stupid, or even crazy to share his ideas and see what would come from them. 

Many of the things we take for granted today were once just an idea. Many, if not most of those ideas might even have been considered impossible and if no one had the courage to share their idea they would have stayed impossible.

Giving voice to your ideas is the first step to success. 

So take a chance. Share your idea, tell somebody. Yes, you need to protect your idea from those who would steal it but don’t let that keep you from taking your idea from it’s hiding place and showing it off a bit.

Just having an idea might make it a good idea but letting it loose just might make it a great one. Ideas only truly become powerful when they are shared. 

So…what’s your big idea?

Change is Not Optional

Most people (how’s that for a wide generalization) don’t like change. Actually, they are okay with change so long as the change doesn’t affect them personally. The worst change of course is the kind that impacts some long held belief or tradition. 

But today, in a world where “traditions” are increasingly tossed aside, where organizations are told that they must innovate or face extinction, change is not optional. The very next innovation could be the one that extends the life of your organization or sends it to the ash heap of the formerly successful innovators. 

But here’s the problem; organizations can’t innovate, only people can.

I was once asked how to teach people to be innovative. My answer was almost instinctive, I said you don’t teach people to innovate, you hire innovative people. Upon further reflection I’d answer that you hire people who care about making a difference and people who want to “leave something behind” for their organization. You then place them in an innovative environment.

Innovation is a people driven process and what makes it so challenging is that people are emotional. They constantly, if even subconsciously, balance risk with reward. 

Even though the desire to innovate may be high the need for safety and security is higher. It’s the fear of losing that security that prevents innovative people from innovating.

That’s why organizations that want to be around in 25 years require especially strong leadership. Not just strong leadership “at the top,” but strong leadership at every level of the organization. 

Those strong leaders must provide an environment where failure is not just tolerated but celebrated as a step forward and and a learning opportunity. Those leaders must provide an environment where well considered risk is not just allowed but encouraged, maybe even demanded.

Much of the technology used in business today was unimaginable by most people just 10 or 15 years ago. The speed at which technology is changing and improving is increasing literally every day. It is truly unimaginable what that technology will look like in a mere 5 years. 

This much we do know: if you’re a leader and you’re not providing your people an environment where taking thoughtful risk is encouraged and occasional failure is risk free then your people will fight the change needed to succeed tomorrow.

If you’re a leader who wants continued success then take charge of change before change takes charge of you.