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Leadership and Innovation – Increasing innovation in teams

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Leadership for Innovation: How to Organize Team Creativity and Harvest Ideas
John Adair
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 5 minuuttia.

This book was one of those happy accidents that happen when you are bored and take a look at what kind of books you have in your personal library.

The purpose of this essay is to learn how to create and lead an innovative team.

To innovate, based on Cambridge Dictionary is “to introduce changes and new ideas”, and “to develop a new design, product, idea, etc.” That is, innovation process involves two parts that partly overlap (coming up with an idea, and producing it).

As the book author John Adair explains, an organization’s ability to innovate is one of the ways it can maintain and gain its leadership position in the market. Moreover, the development of new ideas and methods of working are the key elements of sustainable business success. However, in order to cultivate innovation within the team, it needs good leadership and management in all of its levels.

Attitude, character and skills of the organization’s leader are very important for innovation process in the team. Leaders need to lead – to guide the team (and not only manage it), as well as they need to seek for constant personal growth. All of the successful leaders, according to J. Adair, create esprit de corps within the team so that no matter what the task is, the process is exciting. So, what are the main strategic leader functions?

  1. To ensure clear sense of direction;
  2. Strategic thinking and planning;
  3. Make everything happen;
  4. To merge all of the parts of the organization in one to make them work as a team;
  5. To link organization with its partners and with the society in general;
  6. To release the energy and creativity within the organization;
  7. To choose and build today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.

Do you have a sense of direction in your organisation?

The author of this book explains that the word ‘leader’ comes from ‘lead’, which from the old Scandinavian language (refers to the Old Norse, found ‘leið’ in the Old Norse dictionary – “road, path; way, journey; manner, fashion (f)”) represents the course of the ship at sea. Explaining that during the Viking Age, the captain of the ship was also a helmsman (person who steers a ship/boat) and navigator. Therefore, he challenges to think: “Are you the helmsman or navigator?” The helmsman is practical and manages everyday work, while the navigator has the skills to sit at the back and plan the course of the ship. This is a challenging question to answer. Even more, this is followed by a suggestion that a successful leader should be both.

Innovation is about change, but not all change is innovation. When considering organizational transformation, leaders should be aware of what direction it takes, and how to prepare organization accordingly. Again, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.

It is good to ask reflective questions, such as “In what kind of business we work?”, “Where do we want to be in 3-5 years?”, “What are our strengths and weaknesses?” and “Will we have enough capacity to overcome the unexpected and unknown?” That is because innovation should be part of the strategy that shows a direction and not a reactive process. The most important answer is on the first question, and it is not easy. If the answer on the first question is too broad, there is a chance of losing sight of your existing superiority. On the other hand, if it is too narrow, there is a risk of missing out on potential areas for creative development and innovation.

Innovation should be seen as a gradual series of changes (emphasis on gradual), meaning, making smaller transformations in what already exists. Similar can be observed in nature. Many, myself included, when it comes to innovation adds too much pressure on the process by expecting to come up with something completely new, original and innovative (ironic) – revolutionary. However, such thinking can actually hinder creativity and lead to low self-esteem.

It is important to remember that innovation is a process, which takes time, patience and persistence. Though it is not an invention, which could be considered a bit more complex process, both still require a great deal of creativity, problem-solving, and hard work. As a result, even if innovation is considered natural, it is more effective when it is managed properly, that is, with the right leadership. Meaning, it should be expected, planned, controlled, monitored, and, most importantly, directed towards the goals of the organization. Note, however, that innovation just for the sake of innovation should be avoided as it rarely pays off.

How to cultivate innovation within the organization?

First, let’s start with the most important attribute – elasticity. Is your organization flexible and open to change? A good reflection from this book is that experiencing seatbacks with the team can be viewed as an advantage in one sense, as it forces one to change course and adapt to new changes. However, I have noticed that many are hesitant to take up new opportunities, citing their past struggles or current workload as reasons to say “no”. According to J. Adair, “hesitancy” is a sickness that afflicts many organizations during their lifetime. Yet, this sickness – hesitancy for change – is a problem created by our own. In a flexible and open organization, the ability to adapt to new products and changes occurs rapidly.

Other important features are transparent and effective communication and discipline. Serious creative thinking requires a great deal of freedom – the less restrictions, the better. It is essential to reduce the barriers between departments within the organization. Also, too much paperwork kills creativity. That is to say, 1) try to foster a cooperative culture with a broader structure and communication as informal as you can (the author of the book highlights that innovative organizations have good internal communication, predominantly oral); 2) create an environment where all departments can and are even encouraged to collaborate (good term used in the book – ‘to pollinate’ over the boarders).

Lastly, be open to taking risks. Risk is the brother of innovation. Moreover, it is impossible to create something new without assuming the element of risk. It is essential to evaluate every change and understand the impact it will have on the current setting and its results as well as to learn from your failures. Failures can provide important insights and knowledge, for instance, usually, you can discover that there were some signs of the upcoming failure.

Last highlights in this section:

  • Notice and appreciate;
  • Give freedom to work in a field of interest;
  • Encourage taking risks;
  • Enable easy communication channels with colleagues;
  • Be enthusiastic;
  • Do not withhold replying;
  • Be ready to work with raw ideas.

To conclude, innovative teams are not just born – they are created. The foundation of these teams is a balance between freedom and organisation, and they are the result of good leadership. That is to say, leading an innovation is about encouraging, stimulating, and being present from beginning to the end, while remembering to trust others and release control. The greatest challenge in innovation is not the idea generation itself but knowing how to use creative minds well.




Cambridge Dictionary. n.d.  Read on 17.09.2023 https://dictionary.cambridge.org/

Edeirs, Dž. 2007. Līderība un inovācija. Kā veidot radošumu komandā un gūt idejas. [translated version from John Adair “Leadership for innovation. How to organise team creativity and harvest ideas” 2007] First edition. 120 Pentonville Road, London N1 9JN, United Kingdom: Kogan Page Limited.

The Vikings of Bjornstad. n.d. Read on 17.09.2023. https://www.vikingsofbjornstad.com/Old_Norse_Dictionary_N2E.shtm#l


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