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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.