Webinar Recap: 4 Conditions Innovation Leaders Create to Drive Results

Webinar Recap: 4 Conditions Innovation Leaders Create to Drive Results

All four conditions are closely linked and interdependent

How do leaders create the conditions for innovation to thrive? During Schaffer’s November 17 webinar, we continued to answer that question with insights from client experiences, results from our recent innovation survey, and reflections from a panel of experts, including:

  • Sara Beckman from Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley
  • Dan Cherian, VP of Global Innovation at VF Corporation
  • Dinsh Guzdar, President of San Francisco-based f'real foods

The Innovation Survey confirmed that four conditions must be present to power innovation success. All panelists shared examples from their own experience that are consistent with the conditions that Schaffer believes power innovation success.

  1. Constant Energy: Create productive tension that keeps people in the innovation zone
  2. Creative Friction: Enable rich interaction to generate diverse ideas
  3. Flexible Structures: Define direction while maximizing speed and agility
  4. Purposeful Discovery: Quickly test possibilities to develop user centered solutions

The survey results also reinforced that innovation leaders show relative strength in all four areas, while innovation followers and laggers consistently scored lower. The key takeaway: For innovation to thrive, all four conditions need to be strong – they are closely linked and interdependent. The panelists reflected on the four conditions and their experiences leading innovation efforts.

Constant Energy

F’real foods is still experiencing significant sales growth, despite its acquisition by a larger food company, Rich Products Corporation, in 2012. Dinsh recognized immediately upon taking the company’s reins that preserving its innovation capability demanded keeping it separate from its parent organization. By continuing to communicate an inspiring vision for the future and maintaining a founder’s level of engagement, Dinsh creates the constant energy necessary for teams to push the bounds of product innovation. Consistent, authentic interactions with team members help them stay focused on the hard work of innovation, even in the face of certain setbacks.

Creative Friction

Sara noted that leaders tend to make the assumption that when they put people together in a group and tell them to act as a team, they will know how to do that – but that's not necessarily the case. “Teaming is the engine of organizational learning and helping them set the agenda is important,” Sara said. Organizing cross-functional teams is part of that process. Another critical element is ensuring team members mix virtual collaboration with regular face-to-face time to ensure opportunities for spontaneous and sometimes challenging discussions. By paying attention to team composition and dynamics, leaders can facilitate the creative friction necessary to produce innovative solutions. 

Flexible Structure

Dan shared his own observations from inside of VF, a $12.3 billion company founded in 1899 with more than 30 brands under its umbrella. Dan says that in many large companies, "innovation teams wind up looking like mini-product teams with a lot of hierarchy. We're doing an experiment to flatten that out." His experiment has been very successful – while Dan values the senior people on his teams, he strives to take full advantage of the energy and open-mindedness of the younger team members. Dan also eliminated many of the siloes that existed. "We cracked their heads together and combined the team structure," he said. The inclination to flatten out and diversify teams, combined with the willingness to reconfigure them in the face of new insights, speaks to the importance of maintaining flexible structures in pursuit of innovation goals.

Purposeful Discovery

Dan described the effectiveness of focusing on "100-day sprints", or Rapid Results Initiatives, to drive innovation results. Teams use these projects to pursue what we call “purposeful discovery” – working hand-in-hand with customers to quickly understand their needs, develop solutions, and iterate them together. By helping teams state their hypothesis, create customer development plans, and implement, learn, and pivot, leaders can significantly accelerate and improve the effectiveness of their innovation efforts. 

Leaders have spent decades building organizations as execution machines – not innovation incubators. Most companies are oriented around re-occurring tasks and therefore can flourish in ‘command and control’ environments. While this approach does create efficiencies, it is ill-suited to the iterative nature of innovation. Our firm helps these companies embrace the four innovation conditions necessary to become more customer-focused, nimble, and fast moving.

If you missed the webinar, you can still listen in to the replay.

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