Innovate to Lead Through Challenge

What you need to succeed during turbulent times can be quite different from business-as-usual leadership. “The ability to move beyond fear and search for potential opportunities within the existing crisis will enable you to innovate in ways that increase your value and set your team up for current wins and future success,” says Tamara Ghandour, author of Innovation is Everybody’s Business. Learn to become an everyday innovator with Ghandour and other experts at WFF’s virtual 2020 Resolve to Thrive Leadership Development Workshops this fall.

In the face of daunting challenge, it’s easy to sink into survival mode and make self-protection priority one. That might make sense in the short run, but innovation becomes a key survival skill when the threat is sustained.
“Keeping your head down and waiting for a return to normal will only increase the depth and duration of the challenges spurred by the pandemic,” says author of Innovation is Everybody’s Business and creator of the Innovation Quotient Edge (IQE) assessment, Tamara Ghandour. “Massive change is making much of what we did yesterday irrelevant, but that same change creates new opportunities and new problems to solve,” she says.
Our ability to transform obstacles into opportunities is where we need to invest much of our thinking now, according to Ghandour. “Those who adopt the mindset and behaviors of innovation will come out stronger on the other side.”  Ghandour will present the November 12, 2020 virtual WFF Leadership Development Workshop (LDW), Lead Strong Through Change and Uncertainty.
Innovation as competitive advantage
It would be great if every organization always embraced innovation as key to its mission. But even if that’s not the case, everyone needs innovation now, and that provides unique opportunities at all levels of the organization. “Emerging leaders can bring exceptional value to their organizations right now because they see up and down the organization and are often much closer to the customer than senior executives,” Ghandour says.
People closest to the frontlines are especially well positioned to transform information into insights, she says. “Too often, we push data from one person to another across the organization without ever figuring out the insights behind the data,” Ghandour says. Staff members who talk to customers every day and are out on the ‘street’ where the brand and business actually live can elevate data into meaningful insights and actions.
“My advice to all team members right now is to risk stepping up,” Ghandour says. “No one really knows how to navigate this new situation. But innovation is a skill we all possess and the one most needed right now. Put your fear aside, own this and bring it to the table every day. Your ability to innovate will greatly increase your contribution and value to the organization.”
Elevate Your Innovation Game
Ghandour identifies three ways to move from survival to an innovation mindset.
  • Make the time. “The brain needs time to go from incremental thinking to innovative thinking,” Ghandour says. “That’s why the best solutions often come two days after a meeting while you’re cooking dinner. Ideas take time to bubble up.” She often schedules a week between meetings on the same topic. “If you break up your thinking time, you will actually go faster and your solutions will be bigger and last longer.”   
  • Protect mental energy. Moving constantly from one task to another shrinks the bandwidth for innovation, Ghandour says. Research shows it takes five to seven minutes to complete one task and transition to the next. And that attempting to multi-task just results in constant toggling between activities where the mind is often stuck on the first task while you try to focus on the second. “Give yourself even five minutes of movement or meditation to refresh and refocus.”
  • Forget control and strive for influence. To innovate, Ghandour says we need to find things we believe we can control. Which is a big ask right now. She encourages focusing on influence instead. “Your ability to innovate expands with the idea of influence,” she says. Although you cannot control COVID, working from home, changing customer needs, organization restructuring or kids in virtual school, there are likely areas where you can drive a little bit of change. For example, Ghandour changed her daily routine to include an 8 a.m. huddle where any team member can join to share challenges and mastermind solutions over coffee.  
Innovate before you analyze
To help colleagues snap out of paralysis and be more innovative, Ghandour separates judging activities from idea-generating activities. In an hour-long meeting, she will direct her team to innovate with abandon for the first 40 minutes and spend the last 20 assessing which ideas to move forward. “This approach calms the brain because you know that analysis will follow,” she says. It also allows you to stretch your thinking far and wide and generate a larger quantity of ideas. “Quantity matters,” she says.
You can grow your ability to innovate and lead through WFF’s series of four half-day virtual workshops for emerging leaders and emerging executives. The 2020 Leadership Development Workshops (LDWs) combine outstanding content, expert speakers, industry role models and peer connection in a streamlined, online format. Resolve to Thrive.

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