Debunking myths of leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship

In my first LinkedIn blog post 'How to Get Great Ideas' I highlighted that ideas are the essential spark that ignites innovation. And in order to generate lots of great, unique and valuable ideas we must create the right environment and culture.

The culture of any business is defined by its leadership. If the leadership is conservative and risk averse – then it is highly likely this will shape culture throughout the business – from the recruitment policy down to the attitude towards trying something new. And this company will most certainly not be innovative!

I think most people accept that the developed world paradigm has changed from the old industrial model into a new digital one. But it takes time for the old system to fully shift to the new. The Rogers Bell Curve perfectly outlines just how different sectors of a population take on new ideas. For some, old habits do die hard!!

In 2015, many companies are still left with the outdated thinking that was largely defined during heady industrial boom days of the 1950’s. And as a result a whole bunch of ideas, habits and thinking need debunking.

In that first blog I highlighted that a myth of leadership has built up which suggests it is the responsibility of the leader to also perform the role of chief innovator. We at InPrint believe that one of the main roles of a leader is to create a business culture fertile enough to create new ideas utilising the greatest resource any business has. It’s people. The effective leader will then be able to marshal these resources to best effect to create new value and drive the business forward.

An old myth of leadership suggests that the best leaders are the charismatic 'Demi-God' figures whose primary concern is self-promotion. These leaders, to some, may sound and look good. But evidence of success is to the contrary. The 'rockstar' leader as Collins describes rarely creates healthy, innovative business cultures that outperform the market norm and endure.

So if we agree that the solo charismatic entrepreneur is not quite enough, then neither is the other extreme.

The lone and introverted inventor and so to the first of myth we must debunk.

Myth #1

Inventors automatically create value

Invention itself should not be confused with entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur creates value, because this is their raison d'être, but in contrast the inventor is less likely to possess the business acumen and communication skills of the entrepreneur and is not always adept at turning invention into profit.

Without the entrepreneurs focus on value, the lone inventor is most likely to invent something incredibly clever - but something that nobody at all finds useful or valuable in any way.

In truth, both the entrepreneur and inventor are needed in order to effectively lead with innovation. Their destinies are intertwined. And both should be equally valued by all because it is rare that an individual will excel at both. Think Jobs & Wozniak. They were two opposite personalities. But their partnership proved quite successful!!

In order to become a game changing business with scale, it will take teams of people with diverse backgrounds, cultures and personality styles collaborating to create sufficiently original new ideas. And lots of them.

The right teams, (assuming we have recruited the right people), will collaborate and create given the right culture in which to operate.

So what?

For those in industrial print, R&D must work with marketing, so a discourse between the two is absolutely essential. For the R&D leader, it is important to listen to those who may be more gifted on seeing and seizing opportunity! The eyes and ears of your business are most likely your sales and marketing people!

Myth #2

Cash rewards inspire innovation

Just as rock star leadership does not result in high performing businesses, neither will traditional motivational techniques create either motivated people or innovative new ideas. Offering driven people with a ‘carrot’ to incentivise them is not an effective motivational strategy. Nor is the stick.

Dan Pink discovered by researching his book, Drive, that monetary rewards do not motivate committed people. Most people actually find the 'carrot & stick' motivation technique a huge turn off. Mr Pink’s research proved that a collaborative approach, working towards a collective goal will generate the best results. The competitive energy of the team is directed outwards as opposed to inwards. An over competitive internal culture could be destructive one. Competing with colleagues for individual cash rewards means focus and energy are not pointing in the same direction.

So what?

Self-forming teams with delegated power to innovate, given appropriate freedom within defined parameters where risk is managed, will create better results. The leading industrial business has to be flexible and this doesn’t work if the hierarchy is too rigid and people are not given freedom.

Myth #3

Brainstorming is an effective way to generate original ideas

The final myth that is being debunked today, is that brainstorming is an effective tool for idea generation.

Many believe that brainstorming will do the job in relation to new idea generation. But I think this is a limiting belief.

The concept of 'Brainstorming' came from the 'Madmen' period of the 1950's advertising industry in the US. The idea is for groups of people to collaborate to create new ideas during a 'brainstorm' meeting. The rules are that you do not pull apart ideas - instead you have a kind of happy clappy approach to idea creation. But I think this could make for a lot of happy but in fact quite crappy ideas.

To some extent brainstorming sounds palatable, inclusive and appealing. Except that it doesn't work. Brainstorming events act as a competitive forum for team members to outdo one another. And in so doing it makes for fewer and weaker ideas. Group dynamics themselves--rather than overt criticism--work to stifle each person’s potential.

The brainstorm is preferred by extroverts who thrive in group meetings. It is their domain, their comfort zone and an opportunity to express, impress and compete. What research indicates is that the group will form around the most dominant idea. And this will not necessarily be the best. This also restricts the flow of further ideas whilst dulling everyone’s energy.

But there is another option. Great ideas can be generated by brain-writing groups, a less well known and perhaps less glamorous technique.

With brain-writing - ideas are thought of before the discussion stage. This approach has the advantage of giving equal air time to every group member. Discussion is still had among the group after the ideas have been generated, but at a later stage when all of the ideas are listed and a critical mass has been reached.

Leigh Thompson explains in her book Creative Conspiracy "I was shocked to find there's not a single published study where a brainstorming session outperforms a brain writing group" - Thompson believes this approach avoids the 'loud mouth' phenomenon where the group assimilates to the earliest and dominant idea. Which most of the time, is the most mediocre.

Brain-writing enables all people in your innovation group to have to have ideas optimising the number and quality. And as a result it is far more motivational for the team and the best and most original idea is more likely to win.

So what?

Think about the desired outcome you want. Assuming you possess the right culture, your people may only need pointing in the right direction. A different approach to generating ideas and motivating people will prevent you from following the same well-trodden and clichéd path that everyone else seems to travel down. Giving you more original ideas!

Myths Debunked

Sometimes we do things in certain ways because we have always done them that way. But often trying something new will result in new results. This may take us out of our comfort zone. It may not be popular in the short term. But that is what leadership is all about. Change and growth.


And doing new things is an essential part of this. Give it a go, and remember that leadership isn’t always a short term popularity contest.