What is Innovation Leadership?

Leadership and Management

Definition: Innovation in it’s modern meaning is a “new idea, creative thoughts, new imaginations in form of device or method”.Innovation is often also viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements or existing market needs.

Such innovation takes place through the provision of more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or business models that are made available to markets. An innovation is something original and more effective.

Innovation is related to invention, but it still different, as innovation must involve the practical implementation of an invention. In other words, implementation is a requirement in order to make a meaningful impact in the market or society, and not all innovations require an invention. Innovation manifests itself via the engineering process, when the problem is more of a technical nature.

Some of the World’s Most Innovative Leaders are:

1 – Jeff Bezon (Amazon)

2 – Elon Musk (Tesla Motors)

3 – Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

4 – Tim Cook (Apple)

5 – Satya Nadella (Microsoft)

6 – Marc Benioff (Salesforce)

7 – Shantanu Narayen (Adobe Systems)

8 – Reed Hastings (Netflix)

9 – Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn)

10 – Larry Page & Sergey Brin (Alphgabet)

How do we perceive innovation?

To have a clear understanding of what innovation leadership involves, we must first understand the concept of innovation. Innovation can be described as novel ideas of viable products that are put into operation. It includes three different stages:

  1. Idea Generation
  2. Evaluation
  3. Implementation

The three stages of innovation (idea generation, evaluation, and implementation) are not independent of one another.

There are two types of innovation.

Exploratory Innovation, which involves generating brand new ideas.

Value-Added Innovation, which involves modifying and improving ideas that already exist. Innovation leadership is a sum of a variety of different activities, actions, and behaviors that interact to produce an innovative outcome.

Value-Added Innovation

Exploratory and value-added innovation require different leadership styles and behaviors in order to succeed.

Value-added innovation involves refining and revising an existing product or service and typically requires less risk taking than exploratory innovation.

Value-added innovation must require a completely new way of thinking and possibly taking new risks. While an existing product is being changed and/or improved upon, characterizing it as a value-added innovation, outside-the-box thinking, research, and risk-taking are now required since it is being introduced into a new market. In this case, a transformation leadership style is a more appropriate style to use.

The innovation leader must evaluate if and how much risk is involved in the value-added innovation to determine which leadership style to use in a situation. The leader must be flexible—able to switch leadership behaviors when necessary.


I can still remember it like it was yesterday when I first started as an assistant to the construction manager. One of my tasks was to evaluate quantities. To be more specific I was tasked with evaluating the necessary quantities of brick pallets for a House. Back in dose days it was all made with pen and paper and a pocket calculator (wow, this actually rimes). The process was as following:

  • I would start with the exterior walls and going wall by wall multiplying length with height I would get the square maters of the wall, then if the wall had openings like windows or doors I would also calculate the square meters (Area) of the openings and than subtract them from the square meters of the wall, by this way resulting the effective square meters for the brick wall.
  • In the next step,I would evaluate the necessary Brick Pieces, by multiplying the Effective m2 with the Pieces/m2.
  • After that I could evaluate the required quantity of pallets by dividing the resulting bricks by Piece / Pallet.

Now a formula would lock like this:

If you do this for one wall its easy, if you do this for a house it will take a bit of time, but if you do this for a four-story building, than grab your jamis, for this will take some time.

  • I also had to take in to consideration tow other factors: Max transport weight and max number of transportable Pallets in order for the shipping to be profitable.

As you can imagine this would take up a lot of time. So I sad to my self “I can make this better”!

This is what I did: I made a spreadsheet that automatically calculated the necessary Bricks, Pallets, and took in to consideration the Max Shipping weight for the order. The only thing I had to do now was to evaluate the m2. This is what I would call a Value-Added Innovation, I took an existing method and made it roughly 60% quicker in order to be more efficient , because Time = Money.

In time, this evolved in to a far more complex spreadsheet.

Exploratory Innovation

Exploratory innovation refers to the generation of novel ideas, strategies, and solutions through the use of strictly open behaviors exhibited most often by transformation leaders. The foundation of exploratory innovation is characterized by search, discovery, experimentation, and risk taking.

It is the organization’s focus on generating new ideas, products and strategies; in contrast to exploitative innovation, which focuses on building and extending already existing ideas. Some studies have shown that explorative and exploitative innovation require different structures, strategies, processes, capabilities, and cultures. See Innovative Organizational Climate/Culture.

Exploratory innovation requires flexibility, opportunism, adaptability, and for leaders to provide intellectual stimulation to their subordinates. In this approach to innovation, the leadership style that is primarily used is transformational. The behaviors exhibited are believed to achieve the desired creative outcome from employees through the application of individualized consideration, charisma, and inspirational motivation.

Not all novel ideas are implemented, and may be resurrected later. Thare is a time in space for everything. Sometimes it is required to switch gears and adopt exploitative strategies to revise and refine the idea to match present needs.

Innovative Organizational Culture/Climate

Organizational culture refers to an organization’s deep structure, normative beliefs, and shared behavioral expectations. This culture is fairly constant and can influence interorganizational relations.

Climate refers to the way that individuals perceive the extent to which the organizational culture impacts them. The two essentially are interrelated. One proposed model for assessing a creative environment in organizations includes the following dimensions:

Encouragement of Creativity

Encouragement of creativity is the most frequently mentioned dimension in the literature. It operates at three major levels, each level containing multiple aspects.

Conceptual Model Underlying Assessment of Perceptions of the Work Environment for Creativity.

Organizational Encouragement

The first level is Organizational Encouragement. This involves encouragement of risk-taking and idea generation from all levels of management, fair and supportive evaluation of new ideas, recognition and reward of creativity, and collaborative idea flow across an organization. Each of these are equally important aspects of organizational encouragement but the third aspect, recognition and reward of creativity, may have adverse effects if the sole purpose for engaging in an activity is to gain reward.

Supervisory Encouragement

The second level, Supervisory Encouragement, highlights the roles of supervisors and project managers in goal clarity, open interaction between supervisors and subordinates, and supervisory support of a team’s work and ideas. This level of encouragement points to the concepts of transformational leadership and emphasise the importance of the interactions of supervisors and subordinates in innovative performance.

Work Group Encouragement

The third level of encouragement is Work Group Encouragement. Diversity in team members’ backgrounds and openness to ideas affects creativity because individuals are exposed to a variety of novel and unusual ideas and such exposure had been demonstrated to have a positive effect on creative thinking.


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