Speedy Innovation: A Business Imperative for Leaders Today

In the past two weeks, two Fortune 500 client organizations we work extensively with have been subjected to volatile conditions forcing their leaders to innovate solutions “just in time”.   Both of these situations are excellent reminders about the importance of cultivating “fast innovation” skills in leaders today.

One organization was confronted with figuring out how to move product into the U.S. from their Mexican plant that was ravaged by flash floods thanks to the recent hurricane.  Trucks were lined up single file for 40 miles and as if that wasn’t challenging enough, they were preyed upon by drug cartels.  No product moved for one full week causing a ripple of low productivity in the US plants that depend on this product to complete the manufacturing process.  Their brand relies on customized orders with short shipping dates.  Some customers are not going to experience this company’s brand this week.

The other organization had to recall significant amounts of food products from store shelves due to a glitch in packaging material provided by a new supplier.  Thousands of dollars of perfectly good food products were wasted.  Further, some customers who regularly stock their shelves with these products will no doubt find the myriad of other options quite tempting in the absence of their favorites for a short time.  Hopefully, they will be back to buying their favorite product, but………….who knows?

“Fast innovation” opportunities arise more and more frequently in our global economy as we experience demand for …………..new products, new markets, and better business models.  And what business is not facing new economic trends, competitive moves, and consumer trends?  Innovation is the cornerstone to business success today, and the opportunities for leaders to infuse innovative solutions into opportunities and challenges are abundant.  So, are we cultivating this skill enough in our leaders?

We know from years of working with organizations delivering “action learning” team-based development experiences, that not all leaders are competent or experienced at creating  “fast innovation”.  What happens when those leaders are then put to the test in real time to innovate a fast solution?  Their success is defined by the ability of the organization to respond to a rapidly changing condition.  We have seen first hand how practicing fast innovation skills significantly and quickly improves the quality of the results.  Leaders that are competent in this area almost always beat their competition.

In our work with leaders in team-based action learning initiatives, we help put leaders to the test to develop their leadership ability in areas such as innovation, imagination, cooperation, competition and provocative inquiry.  We facilitate practice experiences dealing with short timeframes to deliver results, handle quick and disruptive change, leverage  executive visibility and expectations, manage the involvement of critical stakeholders, and exert influence through compelling communication.

Even though the setting for practice is designed for learning, the experience is created with real-world situations so the impact of the learning sticks.  Just yesterday, a client that recently experienced one of our “fast innovation” leadership development experiences reported how he achieved a successful outcome in a situation he had never confronted before.  He was quickly able to apply new strategies on the spot to deal immediately with what was a pending crisis.   Because he was able to innovate fast, fortunately, he was able to avert a crisis.

Emergency doctors get years of practice under their belt before seeing live patients in the ER.  Marathon runners spend months of preparation before a race.  Why send your leaders to the front lines to create new solutions for today’s business challenges without some rigorous practice in “fast innovation”?

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