Leadership of Innovation 1 – The Innovative Power of Shared Vision

Inzpire is one of the UK’s most innovative and fast growing defence companies.

Last month, our innovative credentials were, once again, externally endorsed when we won our third innovation award within 2 years!

This is excellent news because our aim, from the outset, has always been to create a business that would think, act and behave entirely differently to anything that had gone before. Ours is a revolutionary and exciting enterprise and we are well on the way to achieving that aim. We firmly believe that the most dangerous words in the English Language are: “We’ve always done it this way”.

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11 years into our growth story, I thought I would share some of the things that I have learned about leading innovation. My thoughts will form a series of blogs to be publicised in the run up to Christmas.

In this first blog I would like to explore one of the most important things that I have learned: that innovation leaders create innovation through others.

The best innovation leaders surround themselves with highly innovative people and empower them to innovate on their (and the organisation’s) behalf. They realise that the role of the innovation leader should be to create the conditions in which other people feel free to innovate. This, however, is a lot harder than it sounds!

For a start, it means that innovation leaders should resist the temptation to “dive into the weeds” and operate at the innovation coalface. They need to avoid being sat in the metaphorical workshops with the metaphorical soldering irons! The people doing that are inventors; and there is a big difference between an inventor and an innovation leader.

Inventors are very important people who are critical in all innovative organisations, but organisations also need innovation leaders. These people have the ability to get ‘out of the weeds’ and focus on creating the organisational conditions in which other people can be innovative. Good innovation leaders understand that innovation leadership is actually more about leadership than it is about innovation.

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Therefore, although it seems rather counter intuitive, I believe that creative ability is not actually that important in an innovation leader. What is important (actually very important) is the ability to develop and articulate a compelling vision of the future that will inspire and release the creativity in others. This means innovation leaders need, first and foremost, to be powerful and persuasive communicators. A good dose of emotional intelligence helps too!

A critical skill for innovation leaders is the ability to create a compelling ‘shared vision’ of the future that can be used to ignite an innovative fire in the belly of the organisation.

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Shared vision is an incredibly powerful concept in innovation but hardly anyone ever discusses it in this context. Which is a shame, because a truly imaginative shared vision has tremendous innovative power – because shared vision is almost always the lens that focuses, frames, and frees innovation to actually happen.

There is no greater example of the innovative power of shared vision than John F Kennedy’s 1961 vision of, before that decade was over, putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. That daring, powerful, imaginative and unifying vision of a single man became a ‘shared vision’ with the American people and unleashed a decade of the most amazing innovation – the effects of which can still be seen today, and which resulted in this amazing footprint below.

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We should not be surprised by the innovative power of vision because innovation is ultimately delivered by people. Therefore, for innovation to exist, it really helps if people feel inspired by something bigger than themselves – which brings us back, full circle, to the need for a compelling ‘shared vision’.

At Inzpire, our innovative culture is built on the foundation of a 15-year company-wide shared vision of becoming the most respected and trusted defence company on the planet – something that we absolutely intend to achieve. This is one of the two bedrocks of our innovative thinking. The other will be the subject of my next blog….

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