The 4 Questions A Leader Has To Ask Before Innovating

Innovation Can't Be Pushed, Pulled, Stirred or Commanded


During 2015, while working on my book 'The Leadership Spark' on business innovation, I talked to many managers and scholars involved in this topic, from all around the world. I read several books on it and yet did not find an all-encompassing theory summing everything up. What I found is that there are 4 major questions a leader in innovation (mainly CINOs) has to ask themselves before implementation. These 4 questions are rarely addressed fully.

The first question is: do I have the people to run the implementation of an innovation program within my company?

In the multitude of theories on innovation and creativity there are some dedicated to answering exactly this question: the role of individual creativity in business. Dogma on the subject says that you cannot have a successful innovation process or program unless you have dedicated people. Dedicated means: aligned to the company's mission, fanatically involved in supporting it and true believers in their own creative potential. How do you detect them in your company?

The second most important question is: is the existing company culture one favorable to emergent innovation?

In other words, is the vibe of the company one containing enough collective creative potential? In general, a culture is creative where knowledge is existent in great amounts and where it freely flows around. What happens most often is that corporate cultures are directed towards profit or cost-cutting. What is wrong here is that these kind of cultures immersed in a preoccupation with money do not naturally foster creativity or innovation. It is the same with each great inventor, artist or creative movement; the moment monetization rises in the horizon, creativity decreases significantly. The path towards profits and/ or economies are limited as long as people see this as the end point. Immediately they are shown a path that isn't purely monetary, their creativity increases. The purpose has to be significant for them, not (only) for the shareholders; it has to do with theirs or others lives improving. When this kind of mission or vision is declared and supported all along, they reach towards infinite ways of manifesting creativity at individual and community level. This kind of a mission has to do with the energy of things (in this case with the forceful dedication to accomplish it) and with the energy of such a proposition (in this case with its aiming at others, not self).

The third question is: does the company have the necessary tools at the level of each individual in the company with which they can manifest their creativity?

Even if there is a bunch of well suited people (in the sense of a positive answer to the first question) to deal with creativity, they might lack the proper instruments, techniques or tools. In the sense that one is the belief that 'I am creative' and another is the creative behaviour. Creative thinking is of a special type, presupposing differently to normal cognitive processes. And these special ways of thinking are not common, but to be modeled and copied from the greatest inventors, artists and other creative people. On the other hand, creative thinking produces creative behaviour. In spite of the fact that such different ways of thinking and behaving are already listed in specialty books, they are rarely used in strategic planning meetings or in boardrooms nowadays.

The last question: is the organization of the processes within my company effective for the emergence of innovation?

A bureaucratic or slow decision process applied to employees ideas (1), the political filters consciously or unconsciously applied by middle-managers to their subordinates ideas (2) or/ and the monetary incentives for great ideas hinder creativity and innovation. I think the hardest block is in the companies where middle-management's role in implementing innovation is not acknowledged. I also get in touch with managers speaking to me of normalizing the creative output of the employees, as if creativity is something easy to be measured. There are companies where innovation is as natural as breathing.

In conclusion, innovation is an emergent by-product of a collective thinking where dedicated people trust their inner creativity and have the proper tools to express it within a fertile organizational setting. Innovation can not be pushed, pulled, stirred or commanded. It naturally appears as in nature: when some good seeds are thrown over a fertile soil. Meaning - when the leaders of an organization ensure positive answers to the 4 questions discussed. Thinking business innovation in this way is called integral thinking of innovation. Ken Wilber is the contemporary philosopher who facilitated this philosophy, through its four meanings. Such thinking is already applied in hundreds of places, at the level of corporates, governments, health institutions, educational systems.

You may detect the same conclusions and several other details for a better understanding through studying the following figure where I merged Wilber's AQAL system to business innovation.

INDIVIDUALUpperLeft Quadrant – Consciousness, 'What I Experience'

In general: Subjective reality, states of mind, psychological development, mental models, emotions, will.

In business creativity: 'imagination', creativity beliefs, creative mental abilities, will to creatively solve problems, higher motivation and will.

UpperRight Quadrant – Behavior, 'What others see that I Do'

In general: Objective reality, brain, visible biological features, activation of bodily systems.

In business creativity: 'innovation', senses directed to creative input, neurobiology and genes of creative people, creative behaviors, creativity techniques, instruments to measure creativity.

COLLECTIVELowerLeft Quadrant – Culture, 'What WE Experience'

In general:Inter-subjective reality, shared values, culture and worldview, webs of culture, communication, relationships, norms, customs.

In business creativity: pollination of ideas, creative cultures, creative collective emergence.

LowerRight Quadrant – Systems, 'What others see that WE Do'

In general: Inter-objective reality, systems, environments, societal structures, economical systems, political orders.

In business creativity: business framework to sparkle creativity, systems of idea generation, procedures for innovation implementation.


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