Innovation leadership model

I am working on recommendations for a client on innovation leadership models. I have been thinking about this for a couple weeks and have developed the following guides:

  • The model has to be dirt simple to understand.
  • The model is for people and about people so the model actions must take that into account.
  • Like all models, it will not be perfect. The more resolution (detail) the model must have the harder it will be to change and adapt.
  • The model should have no more than seven items. Why? Seven is a magic number in human cognition. The ability to recall and process information seems to be bound by a limit of 7 (+- 2).
With those parameters in mind here is my draft leadership model (7 (+1)):
  1. Be positive, smile, and have fun. Smile, its infectious. See Social Experiment.
  2. Build and share ideas. Get ideas out to people, have conversations about them, refine and adjust. Fail faster. Try and learn, try and learn, try and learn. If you are going to be innovative, you are going to fail. Then share and celebrate those failures. Repeat.
  3. Become more visible. Get on the ground with the people doing the work and developing ideas.
  4. Recognize and reward peoples' actions and behavior.
  5. Learn about and practice innovation.
  6. Look. Listen. Learn. Observe your customers (Don't survey them. Don't watch your competitors. Don't focus group them.). Tap your employees (People that work with you have ideas and ability to act; engage them). Ask questions.
  7. Be Firm, Fair, and Consistent (used to be "Be steady, consistent, and methodical"). There is no magic bullet, no quick fix, no magic moment so don't create a 'crisis', an 'event', or a 'program'.
While this is at 7 items, some of the items have multiple concepts within them. Can this model be simple (simple=short, easy to consume, not complex) yet not be formulaic? Just doing these seven things, by themselves, will not make innovation happen. There are some complex people stuff in several items.

Here are some research papers and white papers that provide (deeper) thoughts on leadership and innovation.

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1 Responses:

Here are some thoughts from the Linkedin responses:

From Chris Newham

Leadership for Collaboration and Innovation.

You might find something of value in the model, "A Vision of Leadership for Collaboration and Innovation" and the corresponding exploratory blog, "The Leader-Follower."


From Alastair Campbell

Independent management consultant and trainer


Have a look at 'The Innovator's Solution' too. Good meta-research on institutionalising organisational innovation.

A few ideas form the top of the head:

1. Like any change, leading this change is likely to be more successful if it makes full use of the levers of change that have been successful in the organisation in the past - e.g. behaviour of a suitable group of leaders, performance mgt system, rewards, recognition, skills development, org design.

2. A la 3M, gIve people time for work on new products (or whatever tangible results of innovation you seek) and set a corporate goal that x% of revenue will come from new products and cascade this through the organisation.

3. Take action to minimise the probability of good ideas from the front line failing to get to fruition because they are written off by middle mgt. See 'The Innovator's Solution' for some interesting points on this.

4. Establish an 'idea store' so that ideas that come at a time that's not quite right don't get lost for ever.

5. Go external for new stimuli for innovation including looking at unusual sectors (e.g. I was hearing about successful ad agency / church liaison for mutual innovation)

From James Reagan

Product Portfolio Manager at

There are some good ideas there. But you miss two that I think are most important:

1. Observe customers. Don't survey them. Don't watch your competitors. Don't focus group them. Observe them.
2. Fail faster. Try and learn, try and learn, try and learn. If you are going to be innovative, you are going to fail. Sometimes big. Ask Apple.

I recommend The Art of Innovation
for a truly good read on culture and leadership in the innovation space.

Clarification added 1 day ago:

Wow am I sorry for that link! Didn't realize you couldn't embed HTML. Sorry! What I meant to say is I recommend the book "The Art of Innovation" - the link below links to it.

From Robert Fornal

IT Trainer/Technical Writer at AEP

I always heard "steady, consistent, and methodical" as "firm, fair, and consistent" which seems easier to remember ...

From Sergio Coelho (

Consultant and Innovation Evangelist

Hi John! I think you captured the most important attitudes towards innovation... The following sentences came to my mind also:

"Think more like a child! Don't be afraid to make obvious questions.";
"Have fun!";
"Don't give up if you fail at first try".

From David Wolfskehl

Public speaker, Owner Business Advisers International

I would also add celebrate failures

From Tim Empringham

Innovative Technology Leader


You may want to check out the recent series on CNBC called 'The Business of Innovation'. This five part program involved some very interesting panel guests and provided some very real and interesting ideas for fostering innovation within an organization. You can view the program synopsis, view the episodes on-line, and download the episodes in MP3 format at the link below.