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Calling for Change (Not Creativity) as the Way to Lead Innovation

By John P. Kotter, Chief Innovation Officer at Kotter International.

I shot this video below awhile back after someone asked me about the relationship between innovation and change. Take a look:

What is the Relationship Between Innovation and Change? from Kotter International on Vimeo.

I'll say it again: I don't believe it's possible to make an organization more innovative without producing some pretty big changes in it. If people do things the way they always have, no amount of 'creativity juice' is going to spur innovation. Nor will minor adjustments like gradually tweaking your innovation process.

So what will drive large-scale innovation?

The answer: opportunity.

To drive company-wide innovation, leaders need to articulate a big, meaningful opportunity that all employees ' not just product development or R&D - can get energized about and play an integral part in achieving. This opportunity is about more than increasing bottom line revenue; it represents a chance for the organization to do something with greater external impact.

Leaders should shift the discussion about what the organization is trying to accomplish from 'we want to create and sell product or service x' to 'we want to create and sell products or services that actively revolutionize people's lives.' Give people a reason to become excited and committed to changing in pursuit of a positive, shared objective.

An example of what I'm talking about is how Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon, frames his organization's opportunity. It's not to sell coupons for discounts to stores, restaurants, and services in different cities, although that is what Groupon does, at least on the surface.

Instead, he talks about delighting customers, surprising them, 'making Groupon the reason people wake up every day.' He speaks of the opportunity to make Groupon THE great technology brand that defines a generation. It's an inspiring combination.

If you were looking to inspire your employees to drive innovation, what charge would you give them?

John P. Kotter is the chief innovation officer for Kotter International, a leadership organization that helps Global 5000 company leaders develop the practical skills and implementation methodologies required to lead change in a complex, large-scale business environment. He is also the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and a graduate of MIT and Harvard. 

You can follow John's blog at http://blogs.forbes.com/johnkotter. He will present the keynote "Creating A Sense of Urgency and Getting Buy-In for Transformational Ideas" at the Front End of Innovation in Boston on May 18th.

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