Innovate or die

Are you a creative and innovative leader?

To answer this question, consider what Milwaukee-born and now New York resident David Einhorn, CEO of the successful hedge fund Green Light Capital, had to say about Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft.

Einhorn called for Ballmer’s resignation and blasted the board for not dismissing him. Why?

A Fortune magazine article last April documented that Ballmer has been tone deaf when it comes to anything consumer-orientated. It seems they bungled just about every decision possible in the consumer product arena:

“Microsoft has always been adept at spotting technological trends. There’s no doubt it has the engineering problems prowess to innovate. Repeatedly though, the company has failed to turn its smart ideas and experiments into successful products beloved by consumers,” Einhorn said.

There’s a lesson for all of us here.

Most successful leaders identify creativity as one of the most important ingredients to their success. In a recent survey conducted by ePrize founder and best-selling author Josh Linker, most business leaders rate creativity almost 9 on a 1 to 10 scale. But at the same time they list their organizations as a rather average 4.7 in terms of the ability to meet and deliver creative solutions to customers.

So, you’ve concluded that you’re probably not going to invent the next Facebook or cancer curing drug.

So, are you out of the running?

Hardly. Creativity is not rocket science, and it is well within your reach. In fact you need it to survive on a daily basis.

That’s because creativity is more than just creating “disruptive technology.” It can be far more basic but still very crucial to the success and survival of a business.

Here are some basic ways you can deliver creative improvements to your business:

  • Offer significant improvements to your product or process that drives new tangible value for your customers. For example: the golf equipment you’re using is continually changing; if you rent a hotel room you likely will get a free breakfast; the auto dealership may offer a free rental car during service time. None of these innovations are rocket science but very doable.
  • Improving the effectiveness of your staff meetings reduces the cost of management time and improves your ability to deliver quality solutions for customers.
  • Something as simple as reorganizing your office to improve your own personal productivity requires creative thinking on your part.
  • Think through creative ways to reduce operational costs and at the same time deliver better customer service.

So where do you begin?

Step 1

Convene your team and head offsite. Do not go to the typical hotel conference room. Find a location that’s different from what you’re used to. Use your imagination:

  • Academic facilities surrounded by research capabilities.
  • Resort facilities in rural settings.
  • Golf course conference rooms.

Step 2

In advance of that meeting prepare a clear agenda called the “creativity challenge.” Go through the list of sources of the greater challenges you face by requiring your team to listen to customers, competitors, the industry, and suppliers.

What other emerging trends and best practices does your team see in the marketplace? What can you learn from others succeeding in your industry?

Step 3

Define the problem or the opportunity. Ask your team why is this the biggest problem that we are facing? Once you’ve clearly defined that, you have the basis for the creative challenge to your team.

Your off-site would then be dedicated to answering this question: What would the desired outcome look like for our company? What would we want to have happen?

If the answer is to drive new revenue, then that should focus the agenda for your meeting. I’ll explore the creative tools you can use to generate new and interesting answers to questions like that in future columns.

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