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Building a Community for Innovation Published: Sunday, June 3, 2012 12:01 am By: Rafael Ríos, Executive Vice President

For the past 24 years our firm has preached that organizations evolve, adapt and create the future. These are the key differentiating strategies needed to survive and thrive in  this ever changing environment.  To sustain this evolution, adaptation and creation,  organizations have to learn to learn and learn to innovate

Innovation — not simply incremental but continual innovation — will be a key driver of competitiveness. Innovation must be the central driving force for any business that wants to grow and succeed in both the short and long terms.  Ram Charan in his book the Gamer Changer says we live in a time when the rate of change is such that today’s unique product or service becomes tomorrow’s commodity.  It becomes the central foundation in the way you run your business, driving key decisions, be they choice of goals, strategy, organization structure, resource allocation, commitment to budgets, or development of leadership.

Linda Hiil, a Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at theHarvardBusinessSchool, says that most innovation is the result of collaborative work involving a diverse group and a collective process of iteration and discovery. Those in positions of authority have been taught to think that it's their job to come up with the big idea — but sustained innovation comes when everyone has an opportunity to demonstrate a piece of talented inspiration. Innovation occurs when ordinary people, like you and me, decide to and feel comfortable making extraordinary contributions. All of this happens in an environment where you don’t have to think twice about engaging yourself to contribute, it just comes natural.

Cultivating clones that are mindless followers and execute, many times exceptionally, what the leaders tell them will not promote innovation. Creating an environment where people that have to be led in order to achieve their goals and objectives can be dangerous and will work against innovation.

The future organization, in order to survive, has to build communities that engage people to innovate. In this construction leaders play a key role, they need to act as direction-setters and vision-makers. It is important to prepare them for those roles. But they often emphasize these skillsand competencies at the expense of others that are growing in importance. If you're looking for innovation, it doesn't make much sense to say that the leader's job is to set the course and mobilize people to follow them there. If you want your team to produce something truly original, you don't know exactly where you're going, you have a general sense. You are continuously looking at the terrain, adapting evolving, creating and innovating with the flow.

In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela equated a great leader with a shepherd: "He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind."

Linda Hill continuous saying that leading from behind creates an environment of discovery, continuous adaptation and movement that requires keen leadership skills. After all, the shepherd makes sure that the flock stays together. He uses his staff to nudge and prod if the flock strays too far off course or into danger.

Leadership that induces innovation needs to harness the pool of talent from the community. This entails two primary responsibilities — and they are not easy to get right.

First of all,it is the leaders role to build the village or community within the organization. This is a place where people feel comfortable innovating. You could say they feel at home, not threatened. Successful organizations create an environment where people want to belong. These are villages were people are valued for who they are and what they contribute. The villagers have a common purpose, values and rules of engagement about how people should interact and problem-solve together. They have a shared purpose that serves as a bond that keeps them together and makes them willing to do the hard work of innovation. This community is a source of learning through the mentorship of older members, the sharing of stories and legends, and through apprenticeships. Belonging, trust, collaboration and enduring relationships are the cornerstones of the community.

The role of the leader will be to move the organization to build the capabilities to engage the organization in the innovation process. Ms. Hill states there are three capabilities, these are: creative abrasion (the ability to generate ideas through intellectual discourse and debate); creative agility (the ability to test and refine ideas through quick pursuit); and creative resolution (the ability to make decisions in an integrative manner). 


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