Becoming innovation leaders: what every NED should know

It’s time to re-think innovation.

As the Board and business landscape continues to rapidly change – fuelled by powerful technology and disruption – Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) need to ask the right questions to navigate the road ahead.

Innovation is increasingly referenced as a daily news headline. The emergence of exponential technologies coupled with a transformative impact and pace never seen before, means that NEDs need to shift their mindset as they grapple with finding ways of navigating the path towards the ever-changing innovation destination. And NEDs only have to look at the strong Australian contributions to be inspired. From flight recorders to pacemakers, cochlear implants to medical penicillin – Australia has an impressive innovation history.

At Deloitte’s 2018 launch of the NED Program we put this under the spotlight with a theme focused on: The new normal of no normal: Boards, innovation and disruption – and we were thrilled to have international expert Larry Keely share his insights. Larry is an author (of Ten Types of Innovation), co-founder of Doblin, innovation strategist, industry leading speaker and has been named by Bloomberg Business Week as one of seven innovation gurus changing the landscape of innovation. Larry painted a powerful picture of what every NED should know about innovation and how they can equip themselves with the right innovative insights to shape future decision making.

Here are five key findings that Larry and the audience shared, discussed and debated:

#1 Innovation needs to be effective

Collectively, we know that more needs to be done around innovation. Most organisations have a clear sense that they need to do more but they sometimes get diverted by the myriad of options. While there might be over 60 different ways to measure innovation, Larry pointed out that no firm needs 60 metrics. Two or three or four can suffice – but most organisations are not astute about picking (and sticking with) key metrics to ensure that innovation is effective.

NEDs play a critical role in this, by ensuring they challenge and advocate for a measuring system that drives adherence to effectiveness. Larry also used a powerful lens around seeing Senior Executives as champions and young people as authors when it comes to innovation. By bringing this to life across organisations, we can collectively drive innovation that is effective.

#2 The power of now

If we take stock of the current innovation landscape, we can see just how fast the pace of change is. Two great quotes that emerged from the discussion were: “It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change” (Charles Darwin) and “If you are not moving at the speed of the marketplace you’re already dead – you just haven’t stopped breathing yet” (Jack Welch). Another powerful (and concerning) insight came from exploring the findings of the Digital Evolution Index (source: The Institute for Business in the Global Context at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, 2014 Digital Planet Report) and seeing Australia featured in the “Stall Out” section. We need to all do more in driving innovation, experimentation and accountability for championing innovation.

NEDs play a key role in this – driving change, ideas and implementation. It’s about coming to the Board with new ideas and being an advocate for driving innovative outcomes.

#3 Harness and leverage existing tools

There is often a perception that innovation needs to create or invent something completely new in order for it to be effective or to create an enormous impact. The reality, as Larry articulated, is that in the 21st century it can be seen that modern innovation is in fact far more about a focus on elegant integration than it is around invention.

If we look at the diversity of technology platforms, apps, services and products shaping our daily lives, it’s clear that new ideas and innovations are harnessing what we have right now but presenting it in a unique, novel and interesting manner. NEDs can harness the power of integration by bringing to the table a new perspective on ensuring that strategies and ideas are anchored by this concept around integration and asking: what can be done differently with what we already have?

#4 Realise it’s not easy

In a world where we all want instant success, it’s important that NEDs and the business community realise that innovation is tough. It takes persistence, dedication, creativity and more. All fuelled by teams who are passionate about driving progress and achieving something new. Maths, data and numbers will also play a fundamental role in finding solutions to challenging issues – with maths fuelling an industrialisation of innovation.

A key message from Larry was that innovation needs to involve a strong focus on discipline. Across the Ten Types of Innovation, potential can be unlocked by creating and installing in organisations a deep innovation competence. It’s a focus on moving beyond myths to methods. By having the right tools, NEDs can equip themselves in driving innovation.

#5 Choose the right projects

The session highlighted the importance of choosing to innovate on the right things. We can all sometimes get lost in a sea of projects that all demand 110% attention – however innovation can only really thrive if you focus clearly on the right things.

Larry pointed out that innovation is rarely bold or effective – and both are needed if your innovation is going to stand a chance! Flowing on from this is the need to be a great innovation leader and all NEDs need to keep this top of mind. Larry reinforced that “great innovators declare bold goals and then make innovation obligatory, not optional” and “great entrepreneurs find unmet needs in modern life, then break orthodoxies using clever modular capabilities” – highlighting the vital role of leadership perspectives.

What’s next?

For more information on the latest NED insights, visit our dedicated portal or Directors’ Alert 2018: Linkages to Success.


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