Leadership for Innovation: The Value of a Cathartic Puke

Based on the recent job numbers, the US is seeing the beginning of the end of the worst of the global recession that began in 2007/2008. It's taken long enough.

What interested me from the beginning of the financial implosion, however, was the way that various "experts" had differing opinions about what was going on - and whether it was really as bad as we all thought. (For most, it was worse.)

There was one particular analyst I recall who went on at great length explaining why what was happening was a good thing. No one was enjoying it, he explained, and it certainly wasn't comfortable. But, according to him, it was necessary.

From his perspective, the financial system needed to be "cleaned out." As far as he was concerned, the only way that it could be done in a healthy and successful way was if it was thorough. Then, he explained, it could be completed and the global economy could put itself on the right track.

He called it a "cathartic puke."

Based on that expression, you can understand why, while I have no recollection of the analyst's name, I certainly remember what he said.

Mostly, however, it made me think about what it takes to lead innovation - let alone to integrate it into an organization's culture - especially an existing organization, no matter the sector or size.

Because, what leadership of organizational innovation requires is the willingness to get rid of what was simply because it's not serving you. Not any more. At least not as well as it did when whatever it is was first devised.

Organizationally, all sorts of decisions are made every day. The problem with them - from strategy through execution across the enterprise - is that they can become embedded. Stuck. The way you do business or the only way you see your business.

That means that, for internal organizational innovators, they're not only up against the challenge of generating new ideas (which isn't easy at the best of times), but when they do have new ideas, they're then up against systems and layers of management that fight - consciously and unconsciously - to keep the status quo. That's the much harder fight.

That's why leadership for innovation starts and ends with the willingness to stop doing the things that don't work anymore. That don't create the profits you need. That are keeping you from new markets and new possibilities.

It then requires the willingness to recognize that there are people inside your enterprise who will do anything to keep you and the organization from recognizing that innovation is necessary. Or to keep you from doing the cathartic puke that needs to be done...including making the personnel changes necessary to get and keep your enterprise on track.

Innovation isn't easy...even if new ideas are floating around all over the place. Executing on them is what separates successful businesses from the also-rans...or worse, the no-longer-in-business.

Leadership for innovation takes courage. You have to be brave enough to be willing to see what others see - and which you didn't. You also have to be brave enough to take the actions to turn those product and service visions into a new reality.

How to start? Try a cathartic puke.