In Australia recently, much has been made of the ‘failure’ of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation agenda. Having seized power from the incumbent PM, Tony Abbot, this policy was the poster child for his new order.
After two years of ‘investment’ in a host of ‘innovation initiatives’, the auditors have been sent in. Findings are disappointing, with few measurable returns from millions of dollars of investments in start-ups, tech plays and special projects.
The many critics appear happy that their scepticism has been vindicated. In one sense of course they are right, but in another they are wrong. Any global business observer knows that businesses and entire economies need to innovate.
Disruption is rife.
Australia has been fortunate that its main economic driver in recent times has been supplying the world with resources such as iron ore, gas and coal, of which we have an abundant supply.
Over the last 15 years, the lucky country has ridden the wave of a global resources boom. It’s not very hard (or innovative!) to dig up something for $10 a ton that sells for $50 a ton. But good things don’t last forever. Already there has been a marked decline in prices, profits and tax revenues.
This shortfall begins to expose the underlying lack of innovation in other industries. So, despite the ‘failure’ of current government innovation efforts, Australia (and most other countries) still needs to innovate – and fast.
To do that we need to understand more about what it takes to make innovation work. It’s about much more than ideas. The most crucial element is the Drive to turn ideas and resources into practical products and services.
Drive refers to having the strength and perseverance to pursue the action required to attain a desired goal. It’s the energy that makes everything else happen and its absence leaves a lot of disparate parts – ideas, people, resources - that never quite come together.
Rapper, Mod Sun reckons,
“Drive will take you much farther than talent ever could.”
THE 3 ELEMENTS OF DRIVE
Drive refers to having the strength and perseverance to pursue the actions required in order to attain a desired goal.
Being optimistic means having the best or most positive expectation about an outcome or future situation. We tend to be biased towards optimism or pessimism (glass half empty or half full). By monitoring and controlling our internal thought patterns, we can help to ensure our bias is towards optimism – whatever the situation.
Optimistic people exude an energy that attracts and energises others. As leaders, we have to develop this ‘muscle’. It’s every bit as important as our expertise, intellect or organisational genius. Sadly, most of us have worked under negative leaders and experienced the debilitating and joyless dynamic they create. Individual and team output suffer terribly.
In our own leadership, we must remember that and work hard to intentionally create a positive and trusting environment – and, in-turn, culture. When we do this we show up as leaders who are keen to drive new projects, communicate openly and who can elicit enthusiasm form others.
Resilience is becoming widely understood as one of the most important capacities for us to develop to thrive in today’s stressful and fast-paced work/life environment.
Life brings all manner of setbacks – illness, death, relationship issues, job and financial loss. Resilience is developing the capacity to cope and recover from the emotional trauma of events – great and small – in all aspects of our life.
Individuals with higher levels of resilience can better manage their fears and emotions and are more able to change their frame of reference when it comes to negative life situations.
Building resilience as a leader is an ongoing process. The best approach varies widely from person to person. It seems that how our brain networks are wired and how different brain regions interact plays a large part in how resilient we are.
Understanding context, drawing on past experience (our own and others) and recognising repeating patterns is certainly helpful. Reducing stressors, exercising, rest, diet and external coaching can all play their part. As leaders, we need to invest the time and effort to find out what best works for us to develop our own resilience, so that we can in turn help those we lead to do the same.
Determination involves having both the confidence and willpower to pursue a specific outcome. Many brilliant ideas never reach their potential due to a lack of perseverance by those who generated them.
As President Calvin Coolidge put it;
“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent.”
Neuroscience suggests that this willpower resides in our Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC). The left side of the PFC helps us to stick to the difficult tasks, and the right part inhibits the distractions that may derail us. We know that willpower is finite, so our success can often be found through concentrating on one key thing. This is the forming principle of Gary Keller’s excellent productivity book, ‘The One Thing - The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.’
For leaders, having a clear goal and directing their own and team efforts towards achieving it, can be very effective. Part of the determination also comes in filtering out or ignoring the distracters. Some of the most influential people in history have been known for such a determination – Abraham Lincoln, Eva Peron, Steve Jobs, Estee Lauder, Bill Gates.
Innovation is hard yakka
Making Innovation stick is about much more that clever ideas, futuristic scenarios and smart people. Several leaders in the above list are famous as innovators, but it is perhaps their Drive that most differentiates them from the dreamers.
Innovation, like creativity, can usefully be viewed as a process. In that process, the human elements of determination, resilience and optimism are every bit as important as the ‘light bulb moment’ of genius.
As leaders we need to understand that and make sure we are building up our Drive to make the innovation we need become a reality.