This article reviews several factors involved in the creative process, and makes some recommendations for Chief Learning Officers and other leaders to enhance their creative output. The spark for this article is the IBM 2012 CEO Study, which claims (in part) that creativity is the most important (and often ignored) required characteristic for today’s leaders.
In my 2007 dissertation monograph on Innovation & Leadership, I talk about the “levels” of innovation which have been universally acknowledged and described – incremental and disruptive. Clay Christensen may have been the first to use these specific terms in publication.
In my opinion, incremental innovation needs to occur as close to the place in the organization where contact with the customer occurs. This is often with sales and service representative, who are enlisted to address unique customer concerns and needs. Having the latitude to respond favorably to these needs and concerns helps differentiate one company from another, as anyone who has had a pleasant (or unfavorable) experience with a customer service or sales rep knows very well. However, to respond effectively, the employee must be enabled with the appropriate information and the skill to use it, to operate within the parameters of their role and still positively address customer issues.
Disruptive innovation, on the other hand, is the kind of change that changes almost everything. Disruptive change, because of its extensive and profound impact on the business, needs the guidance of named leadership – from concept through implementation. Of course, the incremental innovations that occur certainly inform the direction of disruptive change, and the disruptive process includes all levels of employees and customers and partners; but the primary responsibility for disruptive innovation lies with leadership.
So – what is the role of the leader in an innovative environment? 1) The innovative leader supports a climate wherein incremental innovation is fostered and rewarded as a positive business asset, though the principles of organizational learning (as defined and discussed in other blog postings, here); and 2) the innovative leader participates in out-of-the-box, systems-level, collaborative thinking that leads directly to disruptive innovation.
I think that #2 is what the CLO article was primarily addressing, yet #1 is also absolutely needed to generate a true culture of innovation.