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How to foster innovation

As a Manager / Leader, we need to enable people that we work with to think differently and come up with new ideas. But how can we foster innovation?

What is Innovation?

Innovation is the idea of implementing ideas and about putting them into practice.

It is seeing the changes happening in the world around us as opportunities, as opposed to being threats, or a risk.

Innovating is trying something new and pushing boundaries. For companies, there will always be the need to be one step ahead of the competition, to think about how they can differentiate themselves, and that will require them to adapt and think innovatively… because if they don’t, they will get left behind

The Role of Managers in Innovation

There’s a model, which can be helpful to understand the role of managers in innovation, which is Keith Grint’s Typology Classification of Problems.

Keith Grint identified 3 types of problems: critical, tame and wicked.

Critical problems are straightforward tasks with only one option or action to be taken – the management approach is likely to be a ‘tell’ or command.

Tame problems are not too complex. There are a few different actions/options that can be taken. There is a need to collaborate and problem solve – a coaching management approach is needed.

And the Wicked problems are the ones that require more creativity to solve, where solutions are complex, actions/options are not easy to identify and implement. There is a need to collaborate extensively with many internal/external stakeholders and for a different type of leadership to be implemented where leaders need to facilitate a climate of innovation.

For Wicked problems – we need to step out of the type of management that, the industrial revolution, generated, which was very task-focused, and create a platform allowing people to be open to innovate.

As People Managers, we need to create the willingness to innovate, which will then allow organisations to develop the ability to innovate. It’s about encouraging people to think differently.

It does not have to be a radical transformation. It could be incremental changes – such as efficiency, savings, improving a process, collaborating with somebody differently, and improving a customer journey or creating a new product or reducing waste.

As Leaders/Managers we need to create the right environment or climate for people to try things out, increase the space of possibility and foster innovation.

But how do we do that?

What are the behaviours and characteristics of a facilitative leader?

The Characteristics of a Facilitative Leader

Here are the 7 characteristics of a facilitative leader:

Inspirational – shares the vision, creates that momentum/energy and inspires others to act.

Enabling – enables others to act by supporting them.

Role model – creates the right environment conducive to innovation within the team.

Challenging the process – helps clarify the need for change by challenging the status quo.

Inclusive – ensures every voice is heard and included in the process.

Influential – gains sponsorship and advocacy.  

Creative – It is easy to think that we are not creative because we are not very artistic – we can’t draw or design. But actually, creativity is more about the ability to think differently.

Engaging the Brain Differently to Facilitate Innovation

We often hear that creative people are right brain thinkers, and analytical people are left brain thinkers.

In reality, both sides of the brain need to cooperate for creativity to take place.

Creativity means thinking differently, taking risks, doing something that we cannot predict.

Uncertainty may feel uncomfortable for the brain and trigger a stress response based on our history of assumptions or perceptions.

And since our brain prefers certainty, when faced with a question, it likes to revert to the left brain (to find a logical answer), which would in turn impact on our ability to create/innovate…

So, how can we get comfortable with not knowing the outcome of something?

It’s by telling our brain it is OK to not know everything, to be open to new possibilities…

And this is what our role as Manager or Leader is about – we need to create the conditions for people to use both sides of their brain to avoid any bias (e.g. that’s the way we’ve always done that) and to create a safe place for them to try things out (e.g. it’s OK to get things wrong).

The more we can apply that thinking, the more opportunities there are for innovation to occur.

The 9 Dimensions of a Climate of Creativity

In the book by Scott Isaksen and Joe Tidd called Meeting the Innovation Challenge, there are nine dimensions for Managers and Leaders to consider in order to create a climate of creativity and innovation:

  • Challenge/Involvement – involved and engaged in purpose, bigger picture, have meaning and committed – reference to work on purpose and engagement.
  • Freedom – autonomy and independence – can exercise discretion in day-to-day activities.
  • Trust/Openness – emotional or psychological safety – respect and support.
  • Idea-time – time to explore and develop new ideas – protect this time and enable it to happen.
  • Playfulness/humour – spontaneity and the ability to activate all of the brain at work… encourage play and new thinking through trying something new… learning through play.
  • Conflict – embrace healthy challenge but reduce unhealthy conflict – remove plots, power struggles and territorial behaviour.
  • Idea-support – ideas received in an attentive and professional way by all in the organisation – constructive and positive.
  • Debate – many voices are heard, discussion, sharing and reviewing to avoid ‘group think’ or confirmation bias.
  • Risk-Taking – tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity – can take a gamble and not afraid of making mistakes.

How often do you do the above during your one-to-ones, your projects, your team meetings or your daily interactions?

Not as often as you wish? We thought as much…

So here are a few tips for you to run innovative sessions/meetings.

Running an innovative session / meeting

Here are a couple of useful tips to run successful innovative meetings /sessions. Letting creativity flow is important, but having a structure around it is helpful!

Be clear on the roles in the business, and in the innovation session – who the facilitator, sponsor and resource group are.

Collate and review all relevant data and information. How can you make sure you’ve got all the information, so that you can be fully informed, to come up new ideas.

Identify the opportunities and the challenges.

Be clear on the “problem statement”. Start with a ‘what’ or a ‘how’ question.

Generate as many varied and novel ideas as possible with interesting potential to develop or use. Defer all judgement or assumptions! Strive for quantity and seek combinations.

Develop solutions by analysing, prioritising and refining promising solutions.

Build acceptance – consider support, barriers and commitments.

Try some tools such as brainstorming, mind mapping, the Morphological Matrix or the assumption reversal tool to name a few.

But in essence, be very clear on what innovation means to you and your team, why it is important and how you can, as a Manager / Leader facilitate that environment for innovation.

Please do get in touch with us if you would like to dive into things a bit deeper or if you would like some other resources around this subject.

CAPE Coaching & Development equip, empower, and enable brilliant people managers through development programmes, workshops and 1-2-1 coaching. Learn more by visiting


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