Practice Makes Perfect

10 Secrets to Leading Innovation

In working with leaders of innovative companies, I've identified 10 characteristics they have in common that help them drive innovation throughout their organizations:

1. They think. These leaders spend time thinking because they believe in the power of ideas and trust their own creativity.

2. They are visionary. Totally focused on the mission, values and vision of their companies, they have a clear sense of what they want to accomplish and excel at expressing those values in both the company's products and its culture.

3. They listen to customers. Customers and prospective customers are recognized as the single most important source of ideas for product or service development and improvement, market positioning, sales techniques and industry trends.

4. They understand how to manage ideas. In their constant search for innovation, they are willing to accept and develop ideas from any source--customers, employees, the board of directors and even their own fantasies.

5. They are people-centered. They hire people for their creativity and provide the best environment for that creativity to blossom. They believe employees, and their ideas, provide the company's competitive edge.

6. They maintain a culture of "change." These leaders don't just manage change; they actually seek it. They know there's always more to learn, more to try and more to improve.

7. They maximize team synergy, balance and focus. Knowing teamwork induces innovation by bringing together different points of view, these leaders manage teams to get the most creative output.

8. They hold themselves and others accountable for extremely high standards of performance. To comply with their missions of being the best, these leaders require output of the highest quality and do not tolerate anything less.

9. They don't take no for an answer. They persist and succeed when others say it can't be done.

10. They love what they do and have fun doing it. Their passion for the work and the company's growth empowers everyone.

Don't wait for these signs your company isn't benefiting from its fair share of innovation:

  • You hear many more problems and gripes than ideas and solutions.
  • There's a sudden increase in turnover.
  • There's a lot of activity and meetings, but not much is getting done.
  • The original excitement and passion have been replaced by tension and frustration.
  • You hear more complaints than usual about money--salaries, raises and bonuses.
  • Nobody knows what the corporate goals are or what people in other departments are doing, so they can't prioritize their own work.
  • People don't offer ideas, and you're beginning to wonder how to tap into their brainpower.
  • You have no idea whether people feel motivated by their work, and you doubt that people are working at their full potential.
  • You haven't defined your core values; people don't know them or aren't acting in accordance with them.
  • People aren't happy; they say it isn't fun to work here any more.
  • There's very little genuine teamwork.
  • Departments have an "us vs. them" mentality about other parts of the company and customers.

    Adapted from Building the Awesome Organization (Hungry Minds) by Katherine Catlin and Jana Matthews

Katherine Catlin is founding partner of The Catlin Group, a consulting firm in Hingham, Massachusetts. She can be contacted through

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This article was originally published in the September 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Practice Makes Perfect.

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