One of the few sources high-quality academic research about strategic initiatives is Richard Leifer and his colleagues at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. They looked in depth at success and failure in radical innovation as practiced by companies such as GE, duPont, TI, and IBM. Among their many findings, they observed that initiative leaders were good at the tasks shown in these two graphics:
A coach can help you enhance the above capabilities. Here is one example for the first item of asking questions. Your coach can:
- Provide a list of good questions that help to uncover and understand expressed and implied strategies
- Provide training in conducting interviews and other knowledge gathering techniques
- Reinforce the importance of courage
The graphics also show the recurring theme of alignment and commitment as foundational to success of a strategic initiative.
Process or Individual?
I continually hear people talking about methodology, consistency, and standardization. I think they are valuable organizational competencies and worth pursuing. However, as a cautionary note, the Rensselaer researchers found, “The firms participating in our study earnestly wanted to follow a systematic, organization-driven process. However, we found just the opposite, radical innovation was primarily driven by individual initiative.” In other words, they leadership comes from
“inspired and determined individuals who will not take no for an answer and who often have to swim against a current of corporate indifference, if not outright resistance.
What do you think? Do these traits match your experience? Can process take the place of inspired and determined individuals?
- Why Leadership is a Tool (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
Greg, based on the study, it looks like radical innovation is a chance occurrence rather than controlled. The question now is how to improve the chances of these chance occurrences. How to make/grow/find inspired and determined individuals who are willingly to swim against the corporate indifference? The answer could lie in matching one’s passion with one’s line of work. I remember Steve Jobs saying in an interview that his team is a bunch of music enthusiasts who happen to be computer scientists.
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