Adversity, Innovation, and Collaboration


Leadership Performance |

I was recently thinking of an article featuring an interview from Harvard Professor, Dr. John Kotter, published last year. In it he says, “Whenever you have changing conditions and turbulence, it’s actually full of opportunities.” He continues to say that, for this reason, those leading change should have an appetite for times of turbulence. We all know of the importance of positive change, but when you’re actually going through it, each day can feel like new territory. Sometimes it can seem like you don’t have your footing, but these new territories are the spaces where innovation happens. Although it’s uncomfortable, that’s where you should strive to be.

Good Times and Bad Habits

“Good times allow people to have a lot of bad habits and get away with them. Adversity is a brilliant platform for a company to say, ‘Let’s not make the goal just to survive, to not get hurt too badly – let’s make the goal to actually advance and end up in a better position than we are today.’” – Dr. Kotter

As leaders within organizations, we are constantly battling the adversity of a volatile market. Many organizations, some of the most successful ones the world over, look to their past successes as evidence to maintain their course and continue doing things the way they always have. Eventually, the success rate on this strategy will run out and the results can be a killer. If you’re going to rely on an across-the-board tactic, it should be to always be flexible and adapting. You can’t stop the market from being volatile, competition from edging in, or the tide from rising, but you can change your response to these inevitable pressures. If you do, you’ll find your organization producing faster change and with better innovations over time.

Relying on Collaboration as the Fuel for Innovation

In today’s business world of increased connectivity, your top collaborators are your go-to resource, but be careful, relying on too few individuals can actually be a detriment to your organization. Assigning an innovation czar, or forming an innovation team, or counting too much on your top collaborators can have a reverse effect on company culture. People start seeing the task of solving problems and bringing new ideas to the table as being outside of their confined job description.

A study from the Harvard Business Review found that 50% of top performers in among the surveyed organizations also ranked as the top collaborators, but relying on these top collaborators too much actually created bottleneck in the workflow. Those that work across disciplines, the collaborators that are willing to go above and beyond, are crucial to disseminating the vision for innovation, but to truly make the most of these new territories and opportunities, you must involve all of your team.

A Final Note from Dr. Kotter

“You have to make it clear, when you’re trying new things, that you’re not going to get it all right. In a traditional mature organization there’s so much emphasis on keeping the trains running on time that if a train is late, the first instinct is to figure out who to blame. When you’re dealing with inventing the future, that’s just a terrible instinct. It’ll deter people who want to get involved, be creative and take intelligent risks. It’s deadly.”

Keep your team collaborative by eliminating the fear of failure. Invite more to people to bring their creative ideas to the conversation. In moments of fast-changing market conditions, innovation and change are more than necessary. But, if you worry too much, or limit the number of people who get to participate in helping the organization grow, you’re missing the mark and you’ll never find the right change to make.

If you want to learn more about how your organization can adapt its practices to better deal with change, contact me today!

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