What Should You Look For in an Innovation Leader?

By Ludwig Melik, HYPE Innovation |  September 1, 2020
In the 1984 film “The Karate Kid,” protagonist Daniel LaRusso learns about discipline while simultaneously mastering the art of karate from Mr. Miyagi. As the two practice together, Daniel faces his limits. It’s not an easy process, but Daniel is grateful to be taught by Mr. Miyagi. He understands that he is learning life-long lessons.

Ludwig Malik, Planbox

Likewise, the best innovators recognize that discipline is not innate. The good news is that anyone can achieve great discipline. It just requires countless repetitions. As is said in the movie, “Never trust a spiritual leader who cannot dance.” You cannot forecast successful outcomes if the innovation leader is not fully committed every single day. To achieve such discipline, a system and process are required. By working closely with world-renowned organizations, we have identified five key areas leaders should focus on in order to build a strong innovation discipline.

Creative Balance — Innovation Portfolio

Put yourself in this situation: Mr. Miyagi asks you to try giving a solid kick or throwing a hard punch. It all seems to be going well, until you’re facing the floor. You have forgotten to consider the foundation of karate: a steady posture. Similarly, when it comes to innovation, what really sets the pace for success is how your organization looks at and accounts for all the investments made in your innovation portfolio. To create a balanced and robust portfolio, you have to go beyond the headline of measuring investments and understanding each project’s impacts. It’s best to diversify from incremental improvements to moonshots, while understanding that disruptive innovation is much harder to track, measure, and monitor.

Wax On, Wax Off — Innovation Strategy

You jump in the air and throw a nice back punch, but you totally miss your opponent. A great effort that produces no results is a routine occurrence in the world of innovation. Being able to constantly find the right match between your current capabilities and the company’s stated objectives is easier said than done. To identify your innovation objective’s scope and length, it requires a good understanding of your innovation strategy. Aligning innovation with the core business is a constant but necessary struggle that ensures that you have a clear judgment of which investments are best to embrace and act on when it’s time to scale and commercialize.

No Single Path to Glory — Innovation Governance

Showing off with a spinning hook kick is not how you win the fight. Likewise, in innovation, there is no one move that works all the time. The right innovation governance model gives you the flexibility to try different creative campaigns, and approach the problem in different ways. Sometimes, many small incremental steps can lead to a breakthrough. Other times, they can lead to multiple failures. There is no magic recipe, but finding the right innovation governance model for your organization can enable you to experiment and find the path to leap.

Expect the Unexpected — Innovation Skills and Development

Once you learn the martial arts basics, you can mix and match, and use creative combinations of hundreds of different moves — any of which can be the right approach, at the right time, for the right opponent. Innovation is not easy, and it can be an adventure that sometimes takes one step forward and then two steps back. An innovation skills and development plan must outline the current skill inventory, proficiency level, and the extent to which there is a desire to get involved with certain types of projects. This talent pool should be further categorized into how an effective team of innovators needs to come together to generate results.

Sweep the Leg — Innovation Culture

About half of karate practitioners never make it beyond a white belt. Somewhere along the way, the inspiration to make it to the end falters. For innovation results to be sustainable, you need a robust culture. Innovation plays a vital role in your organization’s success and should be embraced by your entire workforce and by other key stakeholders, like customers. Achievements and failures should be celebrated together as a team. It’s easy to lose participation, or worse yet, employee engagement, if you don’t calibrate and fine-tune gaming mechanics adequately.

Ludwig Melik is the CEO of Planbox. With over 20 years of experience in the project portfolio management and innovation management market, Melik looks to help organizations positively transform their work culture to create sustainable growth and ongoing success by galvanizing employee engagement and igniting creative ideation. InnoLead regularly publishes Thought Leadership pieces written by our Strategic Partner firms.

This piece is a part of the Fall 2020 special issue of IL’s magazine, which collects advice and insights from 25 contributors. Read the full “Innovation Matters More” magazine.