Creating the Right Environment for Innovation
From the IT Executive Symposium at Cisco Live 2012
When you strip away all the hype and emotion around the word “innovation,” you end up with a simple but powerful concept: Innovation is about doing something new that creates value. Innovation isn’t just important—it’s critical to a company’s growth and success.
In his keynote at Cisco Live 2012, Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers discussed the importance of being able to capitalize upon market transitions. This requires both innovation (the ability to adapt) and agility (the ability to change quickly, to be flexible). One of the most interesting comments I heard was in the IT Executive Symposium, where several discussions focused on dealing with today’s economic uncertainties. The point was made that innovation most often occurs when we find ourselves deeply challenged. As Jeff DeGraff, professor of business management at the University of Michigan stated, “That is when the risk-reward model is inverted.”We are at that juncture today.
To be truly innovative, we have to accept that becoming successful involves embracing failure. In order to free your employees to be innovative, you have to accept that not all new ideas work out—and that’s OK! Furthermore, organizations need to create the right environment in which people can successfully transition creative ideas to production. “Innovation” is not synonymous with “invention.” Unless you execute to the point of creating value, the exercise is a waste of valuable time and resources.
However, transitioning from the creative, unstructured, unconstrained idea stage to the highly methodical, ordered world of production is no simple task. It takes exceptional leadership to safely navigate innovative solutions from concept to the cash register—leadership that is fundamentally about the ability to nurture collaboration among different mind-sets within your company.
For me, leadership is all about setting the vision and then providing the passion to drive the desire for others to achieve that goal. First, dream big—really big! We have all seen graphs that tell us “technology X took off far faster than we anticipated.” Why do we constantly underestimate the speed of change? Because humans are conservative by nature. Uncertainty scares us, and our natural reaction is to take a defensive position. But as John Chambers and Professor DeGraff said (as did many others at the Symposium), market transitions—times of uncertainty—are precisely the time to be bold. When everyone else is hunkering down, it’s time to put your innovative energy to work. Above all, leadership is about keeping cool when all around you are panicking in the face of uncertainty. Hold fast to your vision and don’t compromise—visions come true only if you stay the course.
IT leaders have a particular role to play in the establishment and realization of their companies’ vision and success. Today, more than any other time in history, we live in a technology-dominated world. Everything we do—from placing phone calls to posting videos of the family; from developing formal contracts to posting one-line comments—runs across the network. It is IT leadership that understands how technology can change the way we do things. It is, therefore, more critical than ever before for IT leadership to set not only the technology vision for their company, but also to help guide the formulation of the corporate vision and strategy itself.
So I appeal to my technology colleagues: step to the plate and show your companies how technology is transforming everything around us. Be bold, act fast, and lead your companies to success.