• Tough-Minded Ways to Innovate

    by  • May 16, 2011 • Leadership, Strategy

    One of my best mentors during my CEO years was my monthly Harvard Business Review. Articles on strategy and culture were my favorites, many of which I scribed in pencil on a piece of paper that my secretary typed for posterity – oh my, that sounds archaic. I can tell you, the articles’ principles helped guide me as a CEO and later as a strategy consultant. I still have the notes I made from yesteryear and today’s blog post gives the gist of one of them.Thirty years ago, Andrall Pearson was listed by Fortune Magazine as one of America’s “10 toughest bosses.” That may have be so. But after Pearson’s corporate life atop PepsiCo, he became an insightful HBR contributor, particularly with regard to innovation. Pearson’s premise on corporate success was that two basic principles distinguish superior performance from mediocrity. Firstly, leaders understand that consistent innovation is the key to corporate survival and secondly, they realize that the most powerful changes they make create value.Here’s a summary of his views on how leaders institutionalize innovation in their organizations:

    1. They begin with the Right Mind-set and a built-in attitude to constantly change things for the better. Innovative companies are led by innovative leaders. Those leaders don’t have to be creative or idea-driven people (although many are) – but they welcome change.
    2. They unsettle the Organization.  Successful companies get things done, control performance, spot problems and bring in the budget. But the structures, processes and people that keep things ticking along can also snuff good ideas and block their movement through the system. Excessive layering kills ideas before they get to top management.  There’s a difference between what’s needed to run a business and what’s needed to foster creativity.
    3. They’re hardheaded about Strategy.  Leaders who embrace innovation usually have a pretty clear idea of the kind of competitive edges they’re seeking. They’ve thought hard about what’s practical and what’s not.  So the approach is not wishy-washy, but focused and driven.
    4. They look hard at what’s already going on. The best backdrop for spurring innovation is knowledge – knowing the business cold. Good ideas often flow from the process of looking at customers, competitors and the business as a whole.
    5. They realize that not many ideas work the first time,  so they’re prepared to praise failure and try again until the company gets it right. From there, successful companies marshal resources behind a few winners and then execute like the New England Patriots.


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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

    3 Responses to Tough-Minded Ways to Innovate

    1. baxter
      May 17, 2011 at 6:49 pm

      >Morning John,

      Unrelated to this post but a question of required education.

      Would you hire a person without a university degree? Is it necessary to have achieved an education through traditional means in order to succeed in the corporate world.

      There are individuals who are a better fit, more determined, able to think inside and outside the box etc..with less of an ' institutional ' education.

      If one is to educate themselves through all of the resources available today. An entrepreneur of education lets say, not business, with less of the financial risks. How are you to manage your brand when selling yourself without a flashy label?

      I guess what I'm asking is: How do you present yourself as more intelligent than those with a formal education?

      I really enjoy your Blog and notice I didn't say "Like" dk

    2. John Bell
      May 18, 2011 at 1:33 am

      >Q1. Yes Q2. No Q3. You need to demonstrate a desire to learn and grow. Read my blog 'Does a mentor have to breathe?' I learned so much from reading books related to my job/business. HBR was great in so many ways. Q4. Don't compare yourself to people with 'formal' education. Demonstrate your unique brand identity – what you have achieved, how you achieved it, how you continue to grow personally and professionally. Re: intelligence. You don't have to be smart to succeed. There are so many other ways. Who is DK?

    3. baxter
      May 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      >Ask SB about DK&KP. I couldn't find an email address…