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Often innovation succeeds or fails by the personal involvement and engagement of a ‘selected’ few. Recognizing the types of innovation leadership might help you manage the innovation work a little better.

So can you recognize the traits of your innovation leader?

Are they a front-end or back-end innovation leader? Here's how you can begin to spot the difference.

Before we climb into this

I have been enjoying a book recently published “Innovation Governance- how top management organizes and mobilizes for innovation”, written by Jean-Philippe Deschamps and Beebe Nelson. I can totally recommend it as it is so rich in thinking through much around innovation, placed within this governance framework. It lays out a clear improvement path for innovation to travel. I am drawing from this book some thoughts about innovation leadership.

The authors view argues that organizations are traditionally tribal and as innovation is a highly complex corporate activity, which crosses many boundaries both within and outside the organization, it needs clear governance and structures to manage these dynamics of often conflicting and differing goals, expertise and interests. Often each group possesses its own rules, its own judgement of what is important and this ‘creates’ the absolute need to have a mechanism that ‘cuts’ across these potential barriers.

Understanding core personal beliefs

Much of what HYPE and its software solutions try to do is not to set out and ‘just’ capture ideas but to achieve the real, meaningful engagements across the organization to end up with a result that has impact and value to all within and across the organization and for the final consumer. Often one forgets we are sometimes dealing with individual core beliefs when it comes to what ‘makes up innovation’ and those are hard to draw out in idea management software alone, I believe you need strong innovation governance running alongside it. That is why this book is a recommended read.

So back to recognizing your innovation leader

According to the authors of “Innovation Governance”, you need the right combination of front-end and back-end leaders, since the two types are complementary. An example of a front-end leader in pharmaceutical firms is typically found as heads of discovery, often under the leadership of the chief research officer. Whereas back-end leaders would tend to be in charge of clinical development, manufacturing or marketing driven activities.

The best way to identify these two types of leaders is often their functional orientation, possible background disciplines and their general management interest and attitudes.

A good example of this ‘divide’ is between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook of Apple, as highly visible and well cited in personality, backgrounds and interests. As described well within the book this difference is best illustrated by this Apple leadership comparison.

The front-end leader

Steve Jobs was clearly a front-end leader. He constantly sought out a more radical creativity in design and end product result. Let’s make clear distinctions on what we think we know of the persons involved.

  • He had a real passion for new ideas, exploring and combining different thinking and designs, searching for solutions to customers unarticulated needs to improve their product experience.
  • He was constantly questioning the status quo and challenging (extremely hard) the team around him with constant how, what if, what else, why not type questions.
  • He had a more entrepreneurial flair and more of a venture capital mentality regarding returns and risks; he kept focusing on ‘big win’ promises.
  • He had this belief to constantly experiment, to open up new paths and different thinking and he looked to accept risk and tolerate failure by moving through the ‘dwelling stage’ into the ‘learning from’ set of insights.
  • He encouraged individuals to have a degree of freedom, he challenged them constantly, and he expected a climate of mental adventure and excitement to attract others into the organization but these were made up of a diversity of backgrounds. His own background was rich in diversity and inquiry.
  • Finally his tolerance levels were often ‘explosive’ but he generated the level of commitment to produce some of the stand out products of recent years.

The back-end innovation leader

It is often questioned on why Tim Cook took over when Steve Jobs died. He is seemingly the archetypal back-end guy. He was credited with managing the Apple supply chain, manufacturing and logistics, thus freeing up Jobs to focus on his front end pursuits. Tim Cook comes with more of an operational discipline.

  • He focuses on getting products to market flawlessly in cost-effective ways, mastering all the complexity of putting in place the operational foundations necessary to go from concept to launch and roll-out.
  • He has that insistence on achieving higher planning quality and expects the process discipline and standardization to make innovation replicable.
  • He understands the demand for speed to market through a high level of cross-functional integration and a ‘first-time right’ philosophy in implementation.
  • Would have without doubt flexibility in execution decisions, based on detailed operational knowledge and pragmatic risk management.
  • That ability to motivate staff for product battles and promotion of ‘launch and learn’ approach, leading to adapting quickly to improvements, re-launch cycles and even recalls.

Balancing the respective innovation clout always needed.

If you have a front-end leader at the helm of your innovation activities then you need to find the balance of who manages the disciplined operational side, then if you have a back-end leader, who will defend an aggressive front-end agenda?

The appointing of any innovation leader has significant implications, sometimes huge. This ‘style’ can determine what generates innovation and can determine the passion, commitment and the emphasis points that your organizations innovation will possibly give preference to and provide resources.

So you have to ask “what is our innovation leadership” model?

Is there a balance within the leadership team, how can this be managed smoothly?

Having a better understanding of leadership traits, achieving a ‘given’ balance to offer a more complementary top team, alongside having in place a ‘greater’ innovation governance structure will help avoid many of the pitfalls and dysfunctional aspects, that can be encountered that software alone simply can’t resolve. People with their personal beliefs, passions and understandings is what makes innovation work, the software is the ‘great’ enabler and governance “pulls it” all together.

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Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft researches and works across innovation, looking to develop novel innovation solutions and frameworks where appropriate. He provides possible answers to many issues associated with innov