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Top Ten Strategies of Highly Innovative Leaders

January 17, 2017

What sets apart a leader and a highly innovative leader?

What are the differences in how an innovative leader thinks, creates and executes?

Highly innovative leaders have learned to explore others opinions, to mine data from the past and present and to constantly ask questions of ‘everyone’.

Often, leaders can become victims of the lone wolf syndrome or the ego conundrum of “I am successful therefore I know it all’.

Innovation is not created on its own it is a culmination of ideas building on one another and creating the next ‘new’ product or solution.

I have researched and worked with many innovative leaders, leaders who are able to inspire due to his or her constant ability to share ideas, share problems and share solutions with their teams, their suppliers, their outsourced partners and more.

The Top Ten Strategies of Highly Innovative Leaders Are:

  1. A highly innovative leader looks for connections everywhere, you might be surprised to know that Steve Jobs had a hard time explaining his vision for what he could ‘see, feel and taste’ but he had trouble communicating what he saw. This is where Jobs was able to use ‘stories’ that connected people to the possibility of technology. Often his explanations began with ‘imagine if one day all people could simply touch a screen and access almost any information to live their lives or to do their work’. Innovative leaders link what is unknown to potential.
  2. The crux of creativity and innovation is analogies  innovative leaders are constantly connecting old knowledge and experiences to new situations. Edison’s kinetoscope, for instance, owes a lot to analogy. Innovative leaders look for analogies to explain what they are wanting to create or to have others help him or her create. According to the analogy theory, it’s because making analogies requires thinking across traditional mental categories. In fact, some cognitive scientists have proposed that the farther the analogy—that is, the farther apart the previous experience and new situation—the more likely it will lead to a radically new idea.
  3. Highly innovation leaders invite as many diverse and disparate point of views as possible. Most leaders look to have people who agree with him or her or who think the same way. Innovative leaders see massive value in having very different points of view on the team. For example I personally used to seek out confirmation of my ideas and this lead to so-so results with my business and my clients. A number of years ago I began to ask for input from people that I knew where wired to be cynical or to poke holes and since doing that my quality of work has expanded greatly AND my ability to innovate while incorporating opposing views has truly added value to my clients.
  4. Innovative leaders look for clues in conflict. Most leaders try to avoid conflict or to minimize it in the workplace. There is tremendous opportunity for innovation in the midst of a conflict. A conflict provides insights and contexts that would not have been brought forward if it weren’t for the conflict itself. A consulting client of mine was challenged with a client delivery solution and when they approached the client their client was very angry that they had all of a sudden and without warning changed a process in their customer delivery. The CEO got involved and was able to ask specific questions as to why the client was angry and together they came up with a brand new solution that improved my consulting clients ability to delivery customer satisfaction for ALL of their clients. A great book on this concept is “A Complaint is a Gift” by my colleague Janelle Barlow.
  5. Innovative leaders find space to ‘free their minds’. Let’s face it we are living in a technological phenomena where screen time is the where people spend the majority of their time. TV screen, laptop screen, desktop screen, IPad screen, E reader screen, Iphone screen etc. There is no doubt that ‘Google’ can aid our ability to find creative ideas or to leverage or research a creative idea however innovative leaders know that often an idea can come while the brain is in a highly relaxed state.Ways to free the mind are meditation , meditiative walking, deep breathing, yoga, tai chi any activity that connects a person to ‘energy’ will create space in the mind.
  6.  Every leader I have worked with who is highly innovative has built in exercise as a regular and consistent activity throughout their week. Exercising outdoors seems to have a double positive effect in that endorphins are released through the physical exercise AND the nature bathing is boosting euphoria.
  7. Many famous leaders have attributed an idea came to him or her while doing something relaxing. Typical triggers for events, that make us feel great and relaxed and therefore give us an increased dopamine flow are taking a warm shower, exercising, driving home, etc. The chances of having great ideas then are a lot higher.
  8. Innovative leaders allocate time every week for free thinking brainstorming with others. Many leaders are so caught up in tasks and to do lists that they do not set aside specific time for the purpose of innovating processes, customer solutions, employee solutions etc. I have a client who sets aside an hourly meeting with his remote teams where they meet on Zoom and the sole focus of the meeting is to bring up a scenario that they would like to improve and then they free flow brainstorm for 45 minutes. All of the ideas are recorded and gathered and then sent to everyone on the call to review the ideas generated. This focus on innovation has resulted in millions of dollars of added revenue because of the ideas generated and implemented from those meetings.
  9. Innovative leaders seek out ‘strange’. What I mean by this is rather than follow mainstream media or ideas many innovative leaders will follow highly interesting and thought provoking people. Often what is seen as ‘strange’ by others is often an opportunity to learn or to see the connections between what is labelled as strange to possible solutions in our work and in our lives. For me I am invigorated by the nonconformists who might be seen as strange, people like Jason Silva or Donald Epstein are both geniuses in their own right and yet many could label them as ‘strange’.
  10. Lastly in my research and experience highly innovative leaders are constantly looking for ‘what’s next’ and are not comfortable being comfortable. Leaders like Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah, and Jack Welch are all looking to make a bigger difference, to smash the status quo, to bring even more value and more richness to others lives and ultimately they see themselves as here on the planet to make a big impact on humanity in a positive way.

Questions for you to consider as you strive to be more innovative as a leader:

  1. Do you stay open daily to look for connections of ideas between people, situations or processes?
  2. Do you use analogies to explain your ideas and do you encourage your teams to use analogies?
  3. Do you surround yourself with like minded thinkers or do you invite diverse and different points of views?
  4. Do you see conflict as an opportunity for creative solutions?
  5. Do you make time to free your mind through mindfulness, meditation or other formats?
  6. Do you exercise?
  7. When you take a shower or do repetitive things that are pleasing do you stay ‘tuned’ for ideas?
  8. Have you dedicated time each week to focus on innovation as a practice?
  9. Are you open to ‘strange’ ideas or opinions and look for what you can learn from ‘strange’?
  10. Are you comfortable with your life and work or do you consistently look for ‘what’s next’ and challenge yourself and inspire those around you to seek to make an even bigger impact?


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