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The innovative leader

You don’t need to be creative to lead a creative team, but knowing how to empower, encourage and inspire innovation is a key skill for today’s most effective leaders.

It is well understood that it takes creativity to be truly innovative – and innovation is the lifeblood of any organisation, leading to advancements in products, services, processes or ways of working that ultimately provide competitive advantage. Even the smallest organisation can – and should – be its own centre of innovation.

What does it take for creativity to flourish?

“Creating the right climate and environment is essential,” says Claire Hewitt, Head of Learning Design at Henley Business School, “but delivering innovation and creativity is equally dependent on having a clear focus on the desired outcomes right from the start.” Claire’s emphasis on setting a framework for change – whether it is to be transformational (one big change) or incremental (several small changes) – is based on a foundation of three key elements for any organisation to become more innovative:

Establish a “safe” culture that allows each member of the team to be creative – give them the permission, time and headspace to play, to explore possibilities and look at things from new perspectives.

Give creative teams clear objectives and parameters – include timescales and budgets, incentives and motivations, and specific measurement criteria.

Identify and support the most creative individuals within the team – allow them to thrive without fear of criticism, reprisals or ridicule.

It was Albert Einstein who observed that problems cannot be solved by thinking within the framework in which they were created. And there are lots of organisations that have appointed Innovation Officers, or designated creative spaces, or devoted time to off-site brainstorms.

But while these are all positive signs of intent, the overriding requirement is that senior management accepts the risks, and allows all members of the team to fail. Clearly not all of the time, but often enough that they won’t feel inhibited by the stigma that could be attached to failure. And finally, the top tiers must also be prepared to give the members of the team the freedom to learn from their failures and apply those lessons to the next experiment.

So, to what extent are you and your organisation prepared to fail? Because a willingness to accept failure could just be the catalyst for your most spectacular success…

Mike Davis is Head of Open Programmes at Henley Business School.

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