How creative genius can produce real innovation

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Innovation and leadership are in silos, and Linda A Hill from the Harvard Business School has devoted a career to understanding why. Professor Hill spoke in London yesterday about her new Harvard Business School Publishing book, Collective Genius, which describes what the optimal leadership of exceptional leadership looks like. The research builds on her Being the Boss book, created by the same intergenerational team. Because leadership is affected by culture, their new research followed 16 leaders in nine countries in 12 organisations using ethnographic studies spanning 45 days in in their organisations. They only studied leaders of successful innovation, not less innovative ones. Only one was in a formal R&D role.

Academics look for ways to simplify their findings, and to develop definition and methods which are robust enough to work but simple enough to learn. Their opening definition is that innovation is the creation of something novel and useful.

Leaders, not culture, seem to be crucial to developing collaboration. People need discovery-driven learning, and the key leadership skill is getting other people to innovate, not being visionary ourselves. Leaders don’t need followers: often leaders don’t know what to do. Organisations need decision-making that allows us all to make use of what we find.

Hill argues that key elements of this community that’s needs are Purpose (understanding who are we and why are we together) plus Shared Values (Like Ambition, Collaboration, Learning and Responsibility)  plus Rules of Engagement (how you show respect and trust, assuming that people are well intended, caring that smaller voices are still heard).  Everyone has a slice of genius so how we interact is based on trust, respect and influence.

That also means organisations need rules about being able to question. The most innovative organisations never have too many cooks in the kitchen, but they have ways of making sure that the added value of each person is felt. That means making three commitments:

  • Abrasion  – allowing real dialogue and discussion.
  • Experiments – creative agility to learn from (Hill is a big fan of design thinking, and is a trustee of one of the leading design schools).
  • Creative resolution –  no compromises.

Hill has some amazing insights. I recommend her book. To find out more, you can see Hill and her co-author Emily Truelove in this video. Many thanks to Alastair Fyfe (@FyfePhoto) for the picture. 

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