It is the role of the leader to drive the culture of innovation, argues Linus Okorie

Innovate or die. This expression holds true for any system that want to remain relevant. We live in an ever-dynamic business environment. Technology has brought about so much competition in the marketplace that there is a constant battle to stay relevant with the fast pace of changes that occur on a daily basis. The ever-newer technologies introduced into the market has made it so easy to be termed obsolete without one even realising that things have moved. Therefore, to remain relevant and competitive, it is very imperative for a culture of innovation to become ingrained within our organisations and systems.

“Innovation is the implementation or creation of something new that has realized value to others.” Innovation is realized most vividly in the form of a tool, physical benefit, or aid that solves a problem or creates an advantage.”

Innovation means stepping out of the tradition. It means new ways of doing things. It means daring to be different. It means the ability to organize your thought processes to enable you bring out a service or product that can give customers another level of experience. Innovation requires strategic forgetting of your old failures and just trying it out again.

The question that comes to mind then is, “can innovation become a culture?” Can innovation really become a way of life within our organisations and even our nation? Whose role is it to drive innovation within systems?

It is the role of the leader to drive the culture of innovation. Once the leader becomes aware that he has the responsibility to drive the culture within his system, he begins to take proactive steps to ensure the right culture is in place.

In the bid to create a culture where innovation thrives, some organisations place a lot of efforts on the physical elements like artistic drawings on walls, figurines, physical space restructuring, etc. While this is good in itself, it will only create a short-term effect.

For a culture of innovation to become ingrained in any system, whether in the private or public sector, the leaders in these spaces must support, encourage and reward individuals who display: strong drive and persistence to tackle big opportunities; possess the self -confidence to question statuesque;  an obsession for problem solving; passion for personal development; the ability to work with diverse stakeholders to generate resources needed; adaptability based on the environment they find themselves.

Research has shown that innovation thrives better in diversity. “This is particularly true for the largest companies. Among companies with more than $10 billion in annual revenues, 56% strongly agreed that diversity helps drive innovation. “Because of our diverse workforce, we’ve experienced a boost in productivity. When you can move people to contribute to their fullest, it has a tremendous impact,” noted Rosalind Hudnell, director of global diversity and inclusion at chip maker Intel.

Our leaders must begin to see our diversity as a strength and leverage on that strength to create a culture of innovation within all sectors of our economy. We must begin to encourage the supremacy of ideas and not tribe because when we pull together our different ideas, which will be generated from different perspectives, the combination of these ideas will birth a unique product that can be exchanged for value in the market place.

Singapore was a tiny, impoverished island with a diverse population of recent immigrants. They had little shared history and no natural resources. Very few expected Singapore to survive when it became an independent country in 1965. To survive, however, their Prime Minister, Lee had to champion the integration of a culture within their country that gave them competitive advantage. Today, Singapore has become a cosmopolitan center, that is able to attract, retain, and absorb talent from all over the world.

We must understand that in times of uncertainty, only individuals who set clear goals, and strategize on how the process can be improved upon to produce better results can withstand the wave of competition. To innovate requires pain, and the truth is that most people run away from any activity that requires them engaging their minds in an intense manner. You cannot as a leader in your field of endeavour afford not to engage your mind in a creative way.

I charge our leaders today, business leaders, social leaders and political leaders, etc., to begin to champion innovation in their spaces; to create the right atmosphere where the people they lead feel confident to generate, communicate and implement their ideas.

Great people of Nigeria, you must remember, if a person does not have a purpose for waking up, sleeping becomes interesting.

 Okorie is a leadership development expert spanning 27 years in the research, teaching and coaching of leadership in Africa and across the world. He is the CEO of the GOTNI Leadership Centre.

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