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5 Behaviors Innovative Leaders Display

Want to inspire others to innovate? Here’s a short excerpt from my book coming in April, The Innovative Leader, on how to do it:
People look to their leaders to learn what is acceptable and what is not. They also take cues from how executives spend their time. Your duty as an innovative leader is to actively model the innovation behaviors you want to see.

What are the key behaviors that innovators display? In 2011, my mentor Clayton Christensen teamed with two other business school professors, Hal Gregersen and Jeff Dyer, to write a classic book titled The Innovator’s DNA. In it, the authors laid out five key behaviors they distilled from interviewing a range of famous innovators:

1. OBSERVING: A habit of paying close attention to the world around you and noticing what works and what doesn’t
2. QUESTIONING: A habit of asking probing questions that lead to new insights, connections, and possibilities
3. NETWORKING: A habit of actively seeking out diverse opinions and perspectives to hear others’ ideas and get feedback on your own
4. EXPERIMENTING: A habit of trying new things and constantly testing new ideas
5. ASSOCIATING: An ability to connect seemingly unrelated ideas in new and unexpected ways

It has been over a decade since that book was published, and we still haven’t seen a better list.

Rate yourself, one through five, on how effective you are at deploying each key behavior. Then, assess how comfortable you are at using each. Most leaders we work with don’t give themselves many fives on either list. The aspiration is there, but the behaviors may not feel comfortable and often get de-prioritized amid the crush of everyday activities. Moreover, the behaviors are inherently inefficient—practicing them well takes some time, and the results they achieve in any particular interaction are uncertain. That’s OK. If this were easy, then everyone would do it, and the impacts wouldn’t be described as innovation.

Consider how you can model these behaviors for others and perhaps tell people what behavior you’re practicing so that they can emulate it. The attitudes you convey also matter. If you exude optimism, you will enable people to confront change by looking for opportunity. Clark Gilbert, who now leads education for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly known as the Mormon Church), once researched this phenomenon when he taught at Harvard Business School. He looked into the effect a positive vs. negative attitude about the internet had on local newspapers’ decision-making. Those who saw it mainly as a threat got hammered. However, the few that framed it as an opportunity captured major upsides.

Positivity opens minds to consider possibility.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Stephen Wunker, Managing Director of New Markets Advisors. Pre-order your copy of The Innovative Leader here.

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