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Get out of your own way — adopt an innovation mindset

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Most business leaders recognize the importance of innovating. But they’ve likely spent decades managing for control, predictability and efficiency — a skillset at odds with an innovation mindset.

It may be uncomfortable at first, but a long-held, good-business mentality can be re-framed to include the contrasting principles of innovation. The key: Harnessing the skill of leading with the right practices, on the right issue at the right time.

The trick is to embrace the contrast between conventional business leadership and innovation leadership. While the conventional business mindset aims to systematically improve products, services and processes, the innovation mindset demands the creation of new businesses or ways of doing business.

Conventional business leadership can be shortsighted, focusing on the next quarter’s results. Innovation is focused on the long term.

Strong leaders allow themselves to flex their creativity muscle instead of defaulting to the traditional approach. Ask yourself: What long-held assumptions about good business and good leadership drive your actions? Are these assumptions still valid and do they enable or inhibit our organization’s success? The answers might surprise you.

Conventional business problem-solving is generally linear and goes like this: Define the problem, identify various solutions, analyze each and choose one. Innovative problem-solving demands that you first deeply understand the problem through exploration and by applying empathy — and can seem chaotic by comparison.

Shifting perspectives

Leaders must be adept at applying both, which requires stepping back to assess the big picture. The conventional process still works for some issues and should be used in those cases. Innovative problem-solving should be applied for ill-defined, complex problems with high stakes.

With an innovative mindset, you’ll discover insights that shift your perspective, inspiring you to generate many possible solutions. Experiment with the most promising solutions before choosing one, and finally, develop experiments to broaden and develop the solutions.

While conventional and business mindsets seem very different, innovation can largely be managed conventionally. Instead of thinking of innovation in broad generalities, treat it like any other part of the business. Establish goals, objectives and a process. Determine who is in charge and hold that person accountable.

When setting goals, remember that the emphasis of the goals is on the inputs, not the outputs, as the outputs are unpredictable by nature. The process will require you to manage your team with intention to effectively achieve results.

Last, be courageous. The conventional business mindset isn’t going anywhere. The conventional and innovative leadership practices can co-exist, and together will build a prosperous future for your organization.

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Sue Mosby is the founder and CEO of Infinium, an innovation consultancy. She is the former co-owner of an architectural firm and is a certified innovation mentor.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.