Sunday, October 10, 2010

What Captures Your Imagination?

Imagination is not a talent of some men, but is the health of every man.
- Emerson

In his highly insightful book, Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber devotes a chapter to what it takes to capture the world’s imagination. In the chapter he makes his case based off a question by Tom Peters whom he quotes as saying, “Enough of this weak stuff! Now is the time to capture the imagination of the world! And if not the whole world, at least your world!”

Webber contends that much of what passes for innovation today falls short of the mark. He says, “Some companies go for the gold when it comes to new products and services. But not many. Most companies play it safe and call it innovation. Most companies make an incremental packaging change and call it a breakthrough. They benchmark their competitors and look for small ways to make big claims. They say they’re reaching for the sky-and then settle for the next-to-the-top shelf in the garage where the old gear gets stored. It’s safe. Nobody gets fired for predictable mediocrity. Just don’t call it innovation. It’s more like mini-vation.”

As a leader, the claim by Webber is both refreshing and challenging. Identifying the 300- pound gorilla in the room is a breath of fresh air as it relates to honestly capturing the culture of some corporations. But what it exposes is equally troubling. A culture of mediocrity is the by-product of leadership on auto- pilot. And if the company or organization wants to be around for the long haul it had better wake up to new realities. And that takes place when leadership wraps its mind around these three principles.

Imagination is the leader’s genius for the company. As Webber dutifully points out, corporate imagination by some standards is simply playing it safe. Imagination comes to fruition when ideas emerge from the conceptual and become real products and services. Until a leader is willing to take the necessary risks to make it happen it is grossly unfair to repackage old ideas and call it innovation.

Imagination that translates into new products or services involves risk. The risk is calculated by demand, market analysis, and a leader who is willing to back the product and team who puts it forward. Jim Rohn said, “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” And sadly this is where some companies find themselves today. But a smart leader with an imaginative team can make great things happen.

Innovation is the leader’s standard for the company. Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Innovative leaders understand that if they want to capture the imagination of the world as Tom Peters challenges, it must always be vigilant, learning, and aware of his competitive culture.

Good Housekeeping recently revealed its 2010 Second Annual VIP (Very Innovative Products) Awards. The Hall of Fame Award was presented to Proctor and Gamble for the Swiffer Sweeper. In polling by Proctor and Gamble this product ranked first by its readers. “This product came out on top- and we’re not surprised,” said Good Housekeeping, adding, “It truly changed the way we clean…how did we live without it?”

Innovative leaders don’t just claim innovation, they deliver it. In a few short years Proctor and Gamble revolutionized household cleaning by replacing the mop and bucket with a highly efficient and affordable product that has become the standard by which other products are measured. Innovative leaders raise the bar for excellence.

Intuition is a leader’s safeguard for the company. In every organization there has to be a filtering process by which ideas green-lighted or tabled. A wise leader surrounded by capable advisors can make the difference between an idea whose time has come and those that need more work.

New ideas and timing are a matter of intuition that comes from leaders who understand that the right product introduced at the wrong time can cause more harm than good. Intuition is the needed emotional intelligence your company needs during times when your next decision is not made in your head but in your heart.

Before you can capture the imagination of the world, you first must define what captures your imagination. Your imagination, innovation, and intuition will set you on a course discovering it, creating it, and defending it. Dream on.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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