The Five Mindsets to Lead Innovation in Challenging Times

The Five Mindsets to Lead Innovation in Challenging Times

Perhaps the best time to innovate is not when the business is running smoothly – although creativity should be pursued at all times – but when facing a complicated challenge.

Greg Warman

Two professionals from ExperiencePoint, an innovation training company, said in a recent webinar that exceptional circumstances can bring out the best in leaders and truly transformative change can result. As ExperiencePoint co-founder Greg Warman put it, “Where would we be without complex crises?”

Why should businesses care about innovation? In the last 15 years, 52% of S&P 500 companies have disappeared because they ceased to be relevant in a changing world, said facilitator Keith Laplante in webinar hosted by Chief Learning Officer magazine.

Keith Laplante

The pair discussed the five mindsets of leaders that lead to innovation:

Relentless Optimism – A belief that “better” is worth pursuing gets the innovation ball rolling, Warman says. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is an example of a leader who looked past tradition and constraints in the airline industry, which is so heavily regulated for safety that passengers are told what not to do at nearly every minute of the flight. Branson instituted seat-to-seat messaging and a system to send drinks or snacks to other passengers. Virgin Airlines, prior to its 2018 sale to Alaska Airlines, was the top-rated U.S. airline for 12 years, Warman says. “Optimism is infectious.”

Empowerment – Warman says that when employees are trusted, given the freedom to make mistakes and the ability to work without being supervised relentlessly, they are more engaged. And more engaged employees make for a far more interesting place to work. Leaders must ensure that their culture encourages innovation while improving the skills of the workforce and increasing the opportunities to use them. An imbalance can crush efforts before they start.

Human Centeredness – The focus of innovation should be on the client experience. Make sure to fully consider and integrate client/customer/user viewpoints and ideas.  

Learning Focus – Leaders who encourage employees to “learn their way into a solution” minimize ideas that are too tied to what worked in the past, while encouraging multiple perspectives.

Discipline and Excellence ­– Warman says these attributes are the glue that pulls together the other four mindsets. While nurturing innovation sounds playful in many ways, he says leaders should demand excellent work and keep people accountable to deadlines while ensuring psychological safety.

How can leaders encourage staff to consistently search for better ways of doing things?

Some suggestions:

  • Hold Monthly Failure Meetings – Laplante says one company leader asked team members to explain one failure and what they learned from it every month. Showing up without a failure was unacceptable because it showed the team member was too risk-averse.
  • Start Small – Faith in exploration can grow over time. Start with small projects. As confidence builds, think bigger.
  • Develop a Brainstorming Culture – Follow best practices for regular brainstorming so that deferring judgments becomes the way you interact with others.