Why leaders should not innovate.

Leader’s job is not to innovate. It is to create a culture of innovation. To build innovation into the DNA of the organization’s culture.

And then stay out of the way.

Priya approached me with a novel idea to remove a thorn with a thorn. We operate greenhouses where we test biotech concepts in model plants like maize. That particular year, pest infestation had risen to intolerable levels, necessitating frequent spraying of chemical insecticides. Priya wanted to introduce predatory bugs that make a meal of destructive pests and help control their population.

Fantastic as her idea seemed, Priya had done her homework. She had identified predators and their mode of action against the most problematic pests. She had located a vendor with the know-how to execute the project. She had worked through regulatory hurdles.

There were some unanswered questions. Some cost implications too. And no guarantee of success.

Here’s how leaders kill innovation. Or don’t.

DO

Show confidence in people’s ability to work through problems, knowing that challenges shall arise.

DON’T

Wait to start till you see every step of the way.

DO

Set it up to fail or succeed fast.

DON’T

Expect a product at the outset, aim to get to a concept to a working prototype that attracts an excited user.

DO

Ask questions to find out more so as to try cover all bases.

DON’T

Ask questions to show why the idea is a non-starter.

Fact is, most leaders are terribly efficient at killing ideas with their approach to innovation.

Mid-tier leaders are often the worst offenders, with a narrow focus on operational metrics and an aversion to risks. They can also the ones who can have the most impact with the right approach. They have the right mix of technical know-how, business experience, organization-wide connect to facilitate innovation rubber hitting road.

Executives often skip the walk on innovation talk by punishing failure. Their job is to create a culture of innovation. They can do this by encouraging calculated risk-taking.

Priya’s solution has proved tremendously worthwhile to our operations. She has won global recognition for her innovation. Most of all, she is excitedly working on new ideas that deliver value to the organization while making her career a rich and rewarding experience.

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