Innovation advances the world. All industries are pioneered by innovative leaders who apply their skills to the enrichment of their field. From Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein all the way to George Washington Carver, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, innovative minds have left their mark on everything from entertainment to technology.
But what is it that innovative leaders do to separate themselves from the pack? And how can we take those lessons and apply them to our lives and our businesses? Here are five tips to become a more innovative leader.
1. Take calculated risks
Because no one is perfect, it stands to reason that sometimes, creative ventures will fall flat. But fear shouldn’t hold back innovation. When one strives for perfection, they are ultimately doomed to fail, because perfection is not achievable. Truly innovative leaders don’t let a fear of failure hold them back. They take calculated risks to achieve success.
Whether they’re embracing new technology, opening themselves up to bold new ideas or processing information, innovators cannot afford to be held back by fear. Daring leaders understand failure. They have a handle on how their organization views it and how to learn from the mistakes they make. A healthy relationship with failure is necessary to foster innovation.
Bill Gates famously said, “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
2. Excite minds
Some of the most innovative leaders in history have achieved success working alongside a team and contributing to the growth of joint creativity. A true innovator inspires their team, coaxing them away from fear and toward a commitment and a shared vision. That is the key difference between a manager and a leader.
According to former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, “Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.”
3. Look for problems
Innovation does not start with a fantastic idea. Rather, recognizing problems and the need to address them creates innovation. But a truly innovative person does not wait for massive problems to become insurmountable obstacles. Instead, they seek out the issues that no one is addressing and attack these challenges head-on.
What’s important to remember is that problem solving is a multi-step process. Often, through trial and error, innovative leaders throughout history have cracked some of life’s greatest mysteries.
Steve Jobs once said, “When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there.”
4. Collaborate to innovate
An old African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” A true innovative leader understands this concept and embraces team collaboration. Creating an environment of collaboration over competition enables creativity to shine. While one person alone may be a visionary with extraordinary ideas, collaboration allows team members to workshop their ideas and perfect them together. Visions and projects are refined and nearly perfected through such efforts. Innovators know that progress is a collaborative effort, and they can’t arrive there alone.
Henry Ford, considered by many to be the father of the American automobile, once echoed this sentiment, stating, “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
5. Know when to course correct
Along with a healthy understanding of failure, a strong, innovative leader needs to let go of ego and understand when a specific course of action is not working. When such instances occur, it’s important to know when and how to alter plans and get back on track. Some of the most important scientific advancements in the world would never have come to pass if not for an understanding that sometimes things don’t go according to plan, and that’s alright.
If something is not working, then it’s back to the drawing board to re-strategize and approach the problem from a different angle.
The Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”
A more modern take on this same concept came from Albert Einstein, who said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Innovation is needed to push us to new levels. But it takes a sharp focus, humility and an adventurous spirit to chase new ideas, solve problems and push boundaries for the betterment of all.