Leadership in International Business Innovation

/ June 15th, 2010/ Posted in Management Innovation / No Comments »

International business managers, when thinking about funding innovation, can use generally observed principles to assist creative efforts in their firms.

International business sustainability, ethics and other challenges of globalization are going to require innovative methods, and there is no reason why IB managers and risk professionals, who are specialists in opportunity, cannot facilitate the process.

I created an online course Creating Value: Risk Manager as Innovator, launched November 2009, in response to the economic climate, with the mission of encouraging risk managers to take up the leadership of the process for innovation. I was interested to see that a scholarly paper published that same month reached similar conclusions: “Examining the Leaders of Creative Efforts: What Do They Do, and What Do They Think About?” (about 6000-word length), an award-winner by Byrne, Mumford, Barrett and Vessey, in the journal Creativity and Innovation Management. I do not think this article was intended to present original research – it is a useful literature review. Here’s a synopsis, with commentary.

First, the authors recognize the imperative in today’s environment for “innovative products and services”, and cite prior research finding that “participatory leadership” and “supportive supervision” are conducive to innovative results. They refer to a taxonomy of behaviours for innovation leadership, including “intellectual stimulation” and “organizing feedback.” Creative people show consistently a high degree of achievement motivation and indeed, a certain psychological profile.

The authors discuss the innovation process, which I summarize roughly in this diagram:


They go on to cover nuances of the innovation process: a favourable work atmosphere; environmental scan; alignment of the work with the organization’s goals; funding innovation efforts; as well as feedback and critique – applied constructively and at the right time.

An interesting point: they cite prior work (see their reference to Curral et al. 2001) establishing that “for optimal results, a creative team should consist of about five to seven individuals”. I’ve often thought six to eight persons is the ideal for a facilitated session: fewer means insufficient diversity of views; more means you change the group dynamics and cut off participation.

According to their findings, the leader of innovation should have “technical skill or expertise” in order to:

  • represent the creative team;
  • communicate with them;
  • assess their needs;
  • mentor those less experienced;
  • select appropriate projects;
  • evaluate proposed ideas;
  • give feedback.

I wonder whether, by “technical expertise”, they mean within the domain of the innovation work itself. I would think not – rather, it is a multi-disciplinary background, facilitation skills and, as they say, creative problem solving abilities, that allow the innovation leader to be effective.

I was a little surprised that innovation, in their discussion, seems to be oriented solely towards products and services. Other targets for innovation – and more relevant ones, arguably – should be systematically investigated, such as business models, administrative or technical processes, interactions with stakeholders, and customer experiences. I propose a  model incorporating a) targets of innovation; b) innovation methods; and c) a series of levels of benefit, from mere compliance to improving industry practice and effecting wider social change.

The authors acknowledge risk and uncertainty in the innovation process, which in a sense makes it the natural domain of risk managers – not excessively risk-averse managers, but rather risk-optimizing individuals who feel the need to expand their role of risk facilitation to help create new sources of value.

Finally, the authors address “fielding” (pilot trials) and “plan execution”. I think it’s necessary to make full use of the principles of program implementation and change management to ensure that your innovation pilot – whether a new product or service combination, management practice, workflow, process or business model – has the best chances for success.

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