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Issue 19

Innovative Leadership and the Building of Sustainable Systems

Monica Soare
Manager
@Artwin
MANAGEMENT

The first things that come to our minds when we hear about Amazon are printers, books, games, food products, toys, clothes, car spare parts and many more. Amazon has become a world retailer and the key word for it is on-line. Ever since its launching in 1994, Amazon"s mission has been to become the company most centered on customer"s needs in the world, where people can find on-line anything they wish to buy.

However, if we take a closer look, Amazon is not a mere on-line service or a traditional retailer model, but an intensive technology, more precisely, an innovation factory - obsessed with the creation of new technologies or the development of new business models.

With over 180 licenses awarded only in 2011, Amazon has an intellectual property portfolio which competes with many of the technology giants. Amazon"s CEO, Jeff Bezos, does not talk about products or purchases in his meetings with the shareholders, but about how they can improve the services provided by Amazon, namely: the work flow, waiting systems, the service oriented architecture and data analysis. Apparently a software company, having some distribution capacity, Amazon has become a symbol, precisely because it is willing to invest in a continuous development and improvement of its services, according to the tendency of the market.

The innovation leader of Amazon shares a few secrets with the other leaders, so that they can create an innovation culture within their companies, namely:

  1. He advices us not to go for profit maximization on a short term, but instead to build something sustainable on a long term. Bezos says he is indifferent to the fluctuations of the capital market, since the investments from which we gain the most are those which we invest with patience.
  2. According to him, innovation does not require a high budget, an R&D department, but rather a culture focused of satisfying the client"s needs.
  3. The rule of the two pizzas: Bezos states that we have to form our teams so that they can be fed by 2 pizzas, meaning 5-7 people. This is because smaller teams are more agile, they get to work more quickly and keep things moving.
  4. For Bezos, to make mistakes is something necessary; he states that, in Amazon, each employee is an inventor and that it is only by mistakes that services can be perfected.
  5. For a company that wishes to be innovative, Bezos encourages hiring pioneers who are willing to explore and who wish to serve the clients in new ways.

When it comes to innovative leadership, we find out that those who belong to this category are a narrow group of people who always wish to satisfy the customer"s needs and are convinced that what they produce today is not a perfect product for tomorrow"s tendencies.

Characterized by the desire to permanently satisfy the customer"s needs by constant improvement of the delivered services, the innovative leader often comes out of both his personal comfort zone and that of the business he is leading. Since he is interested in implementing the latest technologies and the latest trends, he allows people to fail, as he encourages creativity and the finding of new solutions.

The innovative leader runs the business in an assertive manner, focusing on creating a sustainable system, which is ready to answer all the claims coming from the customer. He builds a system that is resistant towards ambiguity, being less interested in immediate financial results.

It seems easy to talk about a culture of innovation or about the steps towards building an innovative culture, but the costs and the implications of such a strategy are very high. Firstly, people capable of implementing these strategies are hard to find, and the management of change is difficult and troublesome in any business.

We are talking about an innovation strategy when a company sees the executive"s motivation as important, when there is room left for ambiguity and the employees are encouraged to look at the situation from other angles than the ones tried out till then.

The company having an innovative leadership cherishes opponent points of view, often resorting to tools such as the brainstorming to solve problems and provides its employees with space and freedom to create. Psychologists state that according to some studies made on a few companies, people find it easier to apologize for a mistake they have done than to ask for permission anytime they wish to try something new.

Without taking into consideration the management level, the leaders who wish to evolve or to help their business survive the continuously changing trends, should focus on a few efficient techniques of stimulating the innovative leadership. They can start from flexibility and the desire to accommodate as many options in problem solving. The implementation of a set of tools that stimulate innovation, not only within the creation departments, but also in every level of activity, can lead to product improvements. Innovative leadership is permanently connected to technological novelties, convinced that there is a better solution, a faster service or a less costly process. Having a realistic perception of the external environment, they adapt the innovation to the real demand of the market, trying to continuously improve the current state of the technological process or the service they deliver.

When the culture of innovation proves to be a success, the leader has to focus on his skills and to enhance them:

  • Attention: The first impression or the assumptions do not always mirror the entire picture, thus, they do not lead to a clear or a good solution. The ability to notice what hasn"t been noticed is essential. The idea is to look more closely to what is going on, to notice the details and to create new directions.
  • Importation: The innovative leader has to be able to import information from different domains of activity, such as sports of activities that are connected to the domain of activity.
  • Imagination and visualization: Imagination is a process that helps those who need to process the information gathered from the environment. It helps leaders to answer to questions such as: what if?
  • Accepting the opposition: Innovations are often made by lone wolves, but the leaders who encourage the exchange of ideas, which will not be judged or refuted, will gain a much clearer view on the situation, as they encourage the vision of several persons with different education.

In conclusion, the phrase according to which being a leader is something innate is not entirely true. On the contrary, innovative leadership requires an open mind towards the exterior and the ability to notice, before others, things that cannot yet be seen, but which, once revealed on the market, have a revolutionary impact and create unique experiences in the minds of the consumers.

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