As a leader within your organization, how are you inspiring innovative ideas to transform into uniquely better offerings for your customers? In today’s disruptive business environment, harnessing creativity is the only strategy to maintain a competitive edge. Somebody, somewhere is messing with the rules of the prevailing model – meaning many industries are stuck, and someone is pioneering new approaches.

As an innovation leader within some of the world’s largest and most advanced businesses, most ideas are not feasible. When I say most, I mean >95% of ideas are just awful… However, there is immense value in how the opportunity was identified and courage used to develop and pitch the idea! Capitalize on this bold step with a little guidance and insight and you can achieve a realistic proposal . The below leadership behaviors will help empower your employees and instill a culture of innovation within your organization.

Replace “How” with “Wow”

It’s easy to think when someone shares a new idea with you to respond, “How does it work?”, “How could we make money with this?”, or “How does this align with our customer’s needs?”. However, instead of the ideator perceiving a feeling of genuine interest from these “How” questions, they will resort to defensive strategy in an attempt to keep their idea alive or kill it on their own. New ideas and concepts are very fragile. Even with positive intentions, the words and energy we use in our initial response may predict the idea’s future success or failure.

The alternative: Replace “How” with “Wow!”. Not a sarcastic or light hearted “Wow” – an enthusiastic “Wow!”. Responding with “Wow” encourages more discussion and empowers your team to build and grow an idea, allowing you to learn more about what they are dreaming about. Once the initial tone and energy is set, then its safe approach with a “How might we…?” question to continue to build on the idea. Through this method, use your power of influence to guide the ideator to discover how to transform their idea into tangible outcomes aligned with business objectives or customer needs. (These needs may have been discovered through the new idea). We can fuel innovation through how we respond to unorthodox ideas.

Be a Student, Not a Critic

Zig Ziglair stated, ” There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic”. You didn’t rise to your position without knowledge or skill, but you fill your team with intelligent people you can trust; listen to them. Never criticize something you don’t understand. Take time to learn the new perspectives and viewpoints of your team, including experience at prior organizations. New ideas may often be a solution to a problem an organization doesn’t necessarily know exists. Whatever the idea may be, as a leader, you will likely not create it, but you better recognize it!

Part of recognizing the next break through idea is your skill in guiding a team member’s frame of thinking utilized to generate the idea to a related business problem. While doing so, you must inject conflict onto the idea, not the person, while maintaining a positive emotional environment. For example, phrases like “That’s right” instead of “You’re right” keeps the focus on the idea. Another method of injecting healthy conflict is through generating many iterations/concepts of the idea on sticky notes. One concept per sticky. With enough stickies, ownership is lost, and you can transform an initially “bad” idea into a feasible business proposition without causing emotional distress to the owner.

Stay Curious

According to Al Ries, “The next generation product or idea (almost) never comes from the previous generations”. Fresh eyes often bring the best ideas. This is undoubtedly a disruption to the status quo, and will likely result in many uncomfortable changes. These fresh eyes will come aboard your team unencumbered by your processes and bureaucracy. Ask them, “If you were to build this business all over again, what would we do”?

Listen to outsiders and listen to people who don’t understand how to do what you do. Their ignorance may be the ticket to the next big thing! When was the last time your organization embraced a big idea that wasn’t yours or within your organization’s core competency? As a company grows, you will begin to do things a certain way just not to disrupt other people.

“We must pay attention to the
frontiers of our ignorance.”
– Sam Harris

More Information, Less Control

What would happen if you gave all of your company’s data and information to your employees? The key word here is all; not some, not most, but ALL. Company financials, production data, customer feedback, repair data, lessons learned, minutes from executive board meetings. Move decisions to the point where information is captured Empower employees to make the decision instead of informing leadership’s decision, . Organizations fail to trust their people, and in doing so, have masses of employees controlled by one central consciousness. Adding to bloat and wasted time in transporting information and decisions.

If you give people more information and less control, they will return better results. Give your people more freedom than your comfortable with. When someone asks your opinion, ask for theirs in return – then go with their idea. If you give people more freedom, they’ll stay longer and do more for your company. Otherwise, innovators will leave, and take the next generation idea with them. Educate employees on what to look seek, eliminating the eight wastes for example, and the data to make the decision.


In today’s business environment, making something better does not make it unique or innovative. Also, there is not a single solution. As a leader charged with driving our organization’s future, recognize the approach and methods produce the most sustainable disruptions.


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