Leaders need to get better at ‘directing innovation’, says expert

Business leaders need to focus on “directing innovation” in their organisations and creating a culture where thinking innovatively is “business as usual” for everyone, not just ‘creatives’, according to innovation expert Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg.

Wedell-Wedellsborg, co-author of Innovation as Usual and partner in advisory firm The Innovation Architects, was speaking yesterday to an exclusive group of HR directors as part of HR magazine’s HR in the Boardroom programme.

“We need a new approach to the leadership of innovation,” he said. “It needs to be an approach that's very pragmatic and not necessarily very creative looking, that can be integrated into people’s [day] jobs.” 

Wedell-Wedellsborg advised against making innovation a siloed activity, only carried out by creatives or those in R&D, and said organisations should resist sending people off on a two-day trip to “brainstorm island”. 

He said leaders need to be “innovation architects” in their organisations, identifying problems that need solving and working out what is stopping people from being innovative.

“Innovation is not a mindset, it’s a set of behaviours,” he added. “Focus relentlessly on what innovation looks like as a behaviour.”

The Danish author was clear that innovation needs some form of structure and process in order to be successful, citing research that found two of its biggest barriers are having no formal structure in place and a lack of clear goals and priorities. “Focus beats freedom,” he added. 

Wedell-Wedellsborg’s model for innovation focuses on 5+1 behaviours:

1. Focus the search

2. Connect people 

3. Tweak the process (starting with small steps)

4. Select systemically 

5. Stealthstorm the organisation (letting small groups of people break the rules and operate under the radar via ‘subversive innovation’)

+1. Persist in the pursuit  

He advised HR and business leaders to spend more time identifying business problems before looking for innovative solutions. He said the big question HR leaders need to ask is: “What is stopping our people being more innovative?”

HR in the Boardroom

HR in the Boardroom is a pioneering board development programme for HR leaders, run by HR magazine, in association with CEO-confidant and author Steve Tappin, of Xinfu, and founding partner of The Global Growth Institute Wayne Clarke. 

It is designed to help HR directors have more impact at the board, combining one-to-one coaching with practical sessions, peer learning and networking.

Find out more about the 2014/15 programme, running from September 2014 to June 2015, here.