Innovation Infarction #2 – Leaders Must Balance Perfection and Risk

I posted not to long ago about organizations that don’t stay fit with regards to innovation. This, I said, would lead to an innovation infarction when an emergency crops up. Consider this post a “Yes+AND” as I’ve spotted a great piece by Scott Anthony that looks at that problem through a slightly different lens. Do read his excellent piece Negotiation Innovation and Control.

Anthony’s point, in essence — leaders are geared towards minimizing mistakes. Nothing wrong with that, but it does run counter to the need for experimentation if you’re trying to build an innovation culture. Leaders have to allow mistakes, encourage experimentation if they want an innovative environment. In some areas of operation “no mistakes” is just where you want to be, but product development is not one of them. Leaders need to manage the polarity of perfection and risk, and consider departmental contexts when granting such permission.

That’s maybe a wordy way of saying that a lot of innovation happens between the cracks of organizational structure and approved procedure. Some people would say All innovation happens in that fashion, but I wouldn’t go that far. Anthony’s piece acknowledges that the academic approaches to managing the polarity I describe above are incomplete. I’d say the reason that’s so is it’s hard to wrap your arms, academically, around concepts like courage, curiosity, optimism, invention, and leadership by example. All wooly, touchy-feely things, but we know them when we see and feel them don’t we?

My quick bit of advice for leaders on achieving the balance of perfection and risk is to lead by example. Give yourself permission to experiment and make your experiments visible to the organization. In that fashion you’ll be communicating that it’s okay to take a risk if you learn something, and, if there are innovative gains to be made.

That’s its own kind of perfection isn’t it?

    • I like the language, and thinking about perfection and risk in the same breath. It requires some polarity management, and within the gap there’s opportunity for creative shifts. Hmmm.

      • Thanks for your comment Maggie. Yes, room for creative shifts, if room is allowed. John Mayall might have said “Room to Move” but I digress…

    • Joanna

      Love this post, both for its ideas, and the fact you demonstrated your own capacity to innovate and add to your original thoughts when you come across a new fact or circumstance or blog post. Neat!

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