Updated: Jul 4
You are a leader in your company and you want to deliver. You’ve still got three quarters to turn things around, to overperform, to disrupt, to position your company among the best, the champions, the visionaries. But you look through the metaphorical window and this is what you see:
The aftermath of a global pandemic (and the certainty of more to come), economic recession, environmental disasters, social inequality, political polarization, an ongoing war wreaking havoc everywhere, from supply chains to inflation rates and a new generation of AI whith the potential to change the horizon of businesses forever. The natural, sensible and expected reaction would be one of complete restriction, frugality and let’s-save-all-we-can mode.
And yet, in 2023 organizations need to innovate, probably like never before. And innovation, if done well, costs time, money and energy. Innovation, if done well, is the result of smart risk taking especially in times when taking any sort of risk seems like a crazy idea.
But you are a visionary, you know better, and you decide that investing resources to innovate is the way to go. Wonderful! You tell your peers about it and you find yourself hitting a wall.
Wanna know why? Let me walk you through it…
Leaders are frustrated with poor innovation performance (building modern and expensive innovation spaces, hiring top outside-the-box thinkers and investing in the latest Silicon Valley recommended tech didn’t quite cut it), and they want to guarantee a good innovation ROI.
Investing in innovation and R&D is a vaccine against certain death, but the reason why most organizations are not reaping the fruits of their innovation efforts has little to do with innovation and A LOT to do with leadership, specifically the quality of leaders’ mindset, metabolism and morals.
Shifting the focus to the leaders’ Three M Model: Mindset, Metabolism and Morals. Let’s take a closer look at each one:
You can hire a team of geniuses to lead your organization’s innovation team. But…
If leaders don’t have the right mindset, innovation will be reduced to incremental changes, low-hanging fruits and quick hits that will translate to little when it comes to generating competitive advantage, forget about disruption.
So, what is “the right” mindset? I’m glad you asked.
When it comes to innovation, the right mindset is a soup that will taste differently depending on the chef, but the basic recipe must include the following ingredients:
Sense of urgency
Talent (Intellectual and emotional intelligence)
Mature frustration management
Willingness to take risks (despite a healthy fear of failure)
Intersectional thinking (including being able to deal with dilemmas, the big sister of problems)
Sense of humor
These 10 “ingredients” are actually the 10 Future-proof Leadership Skills that leaders need to develop and strengthen to navigate through the waters of a VUCA world.
These 10 skills will pave the way towards Regenerative Leadership, which is the Rolls Royce of all types of leadership, but it’s hard for leaders to get there without mastering the future-proof leadership skills first, just as it would be hard for a chef to go from cooking pasta to baking the perfect orange soufflé. We all need to learn the basics first, and the basics today are certainly not the basics companies relied on in the past.
A mindset that hasn’t been unleashed will continue to see the world from a place of business as usual and from a place of fear, in other words from a place where losers will see evolved companies take over and leave them in the back.
They say money can’t buy you love. Well, it cannot buy the right mindset either. Companies need to make sure their leaders do the work to develop and strengthen it, and see it for what it is, an unbeatable competitive advantage.
A company’s metabolism can be measured by the speed with which its leaders receive information, distill it into valuable insights and actual knowledge, and finally turn these into action.
But what does innovation have to do with metabolism? Well, pretty much everything.
Imagine your company’s leaders already have the right mindset…but, innovation is still not happening. Most of the time, it’s because the company’s metabolism is slow, or even stuck.
Most companies receive millions of dollars worth of information every month, and most companies fail to act on it. Leaders that keep moving useless information around, forwarding trend reports to everyone without a clear CTA or valuable insights, and discussing and complaining about news and forecasts during meetings without an end goal are paralyzing their company’s metabolism.
Do you want an example (brace yourself, it might hurt): the relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting acceleration of digital adoption.
Most countries, most companies and most leaders knew this could happen. There was even a global rehearsal organized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization, where many leaders participated. All scenarios were presented, measures to be taken were recommended and action plans distributed. At the same time, most boardrooms across the globe were discussing whether to invest or not in digital transformation.
And then, the pandemic hit, and less than 10% of the world corporate organizations AND governments were prepared. Once people were in lock-down, the digital world went through a crazy acceleration, because we all, including our grandparents, had to learn how to meet our needs through our smartphones: communicating with our loved ones and seeing them at least on a screen (hello FeceTime), ordering groceries, medications, reporting symptoms, subscribing to virtual wine tastings to safeguard our marriages, and so on.
Companies whose solutions, products, services and even experiences were digitally available were the winners, the ones who managed to survive.
I wonder how many of the leaders who had no sense of urgency and pushed back their company’s digital transformation are sleeping well at night these days. The guilt they must feel, the shame, the horrible regret. “I knew something and I didn’t take action. I could have done things so differently, I could have saved the company”. Damn! Well, this is a painful cautionary tale. Leaders should disregard it at their company’s own peril, but most importantly they need to ask themselves one question: what am I disregarding right now, even if I see it coming?
Finally, just remember that a company’s metabolism is as fast as its leader with the slowest metabolism. W-O-W. Read that again. As the poor rich guy from Twitter said, let that sink in.
Ok, you got this far. You have a winning mindset and a Formula One metabolism. Good for you! But have you bullet-proofed your innovation? Here’s where the third M comes in. Morals. Yup. I know. Sounds weird. But… Many great companies and products have died shortly after a spectacular launch because their leaders failed to look at them from this perspective, especially in an era of environmental collapse, crazy artificial intelligence and political chaos.
Morals have to do with ethics, obviously, covering the social, environmental, political and technological impact of the products, services, experiences, business models and strategies of the company. A product could be made with child labor or with ingredients that are sourced at an unacceptable environmental cost. A new financial product using accelerating tech such as AI could be developed by a non diverse team of engineers composed of white males only. (Wait, that already happened and made Apple and Goldman Sachs go through a very embarrassing journey). If this product experiences healthy growth and scalability, would the organization be contributing to the protection or the pushing of planetary boundaries? Is your leadership’s big mouth casting a shadow on good innovation results by supporting political campaigns and mingling their personal views with business?
Am I being too cautious? Ok, have it your way. Don’t bullet-proof your innovation efforts with a morals check up, but you will risk missing a tasty, big fat slice of cake and get it thrown to your face instead. Your call, just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
*Friendly reminder: Morals is not about business only, it’s about being a decent human being and a decent organization, which happens to be one prerequisite to becoming a future-proof leader and satisfying customers’ ever increasing demand for ethical businesses and good learders who do good things. We all had enough of narcissitic, selfish, corrupt and greedy sociopaths leading companies and countries, let’s turn that effing page and start building companies that will get us all into the future in one piece, including our planet. It’s time.
So, what’s next?
You can start asking the above questions to find out how your company’s doing in each of the three Ms. If you want to go deeper and kickstart your leadership team into full gear, start by taking our Three M Model Readiness Assessment. You will receive a score and identify the skills and tools that need to be acquired or enhanced in order to lead with healthy, high performing mindset, metabolism and morals, accelearating and stregthening innovation as a result.