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Lessons in Innovative Leadership from Nike

I recently attended a talk by Dr. Erez Morag, an innovation expert who was employed by Nike to develop their innovative sports footwear.  Dr. Morag talked about what we can learn from the approaches taken to innovation in sport and apply these to the business and leadership world.

Three areas resonated with me as elements that leaders might consider in developing more of an innovative edge.

Speed is King

When you have a good idea (often one of those that come to you when you’re in the shower or at the gym) you need to do something with the idea before you get interrupted or distracted by something else.  Otherwise the great idea gets forgotten or you find a reason not to progress it because something else takes your attention. Morag’s suggestion is to take some kind of action in the first 20 minutes after you think of the idea – even if it’s simply to decide on a next step to get it moving.

Action – Remember that idea you had this morning, what can you do to move it forward by just one step?  Make a note now, before you forget (or read the next section)!

Every Muscle Counts

One of the things that separates innovative organisations and leaders from others is the way they encourage all levels of employee to make suggestions and contribute their ideas. For this to happen, senior leaders have to recognise the impact their presence in the room can have on the willingness of more junior staff to speak up with their thoughts.

Morag’s solution is ‘Highest Rank Speaks Last’. Using this approach, in a meeting where ideas are being explored, the most senior leader listens to ideas from all others before expressing his or her view.  That way more junior staff are less likely to be intimidated or feel they need to support the view expressed by the boss and more likely to come up with what might just be the ‘next big idea’.

Action – Next time you are looking for your team to come up with more ideas about ways to improve products or services, think about getting them to make their suggestions first, before you offer yours.

Offer Innovative Solutions to Real Problems

Morag talked about the fact that some organisations, in the interest of developing new products and services, end up creating solutions that solve problems that customers don’t see.  While this might seem to be a proactive, innovative approach, if customers don’t perceive the problem that you are looking to fix, their uptake of your solution is likely to be low.

It’s much better to find out from customers what their main issues are with the existing products and services they are using.  Then based on a better understanding of these, look at how you can innovate to resolve these issues.

Action – Ask yourself if you and your team are spending time on solving problems that you perceive as important to your clients or customers (but maybe aren’t).  If you think this might be the case, find out a bit more about what their real issues are and then develop innovative solutions for these.

Morag’s overall message concerned the value of cross-pollination between sport and commerce / leadership.  Keeping ourselves open to exploring approaches being used outside our own industry or sphere of expertise can offer up exciting opportunities for innovation in our teams and businesses.  Where could you look for your next breakthrough idea?

 




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