Leadership & Innovation: The Symbiotic Couple

The popular image of innovation carries a romanticised vision of rapid, disruptive creativity arising from unfettered, blue-sky thinking, says Nicolas Buck, CEO of SEQVOIA. However, in the real world, successful innovation requires balance between unrestrained creativity and disciplined purpose.

Can you describe the components of the “innovation process”?

We see a lot of hype surrounding innovation coming from unrealistic expectations of “unicorns” emerging from an environment of total creative freedom. Most large organisations commit resources to an innovation function: dedicated teams, think tanks, incubators and so on. But has this led to significant benefits in the asset management industry? Not yet, because the misconceptions about innovation mask its true nature. Impactful innovation in fact arises from a disciplined process:

  • It is acceptable to fail as long as you learn from it.

  • The team must be isolated from business constraints without losing its grasp on the corporate environment where the innovation will unfurl.

  • Achievements in ground-breaking technology must also solve clearly defined problems and generate value.

  • Seek client validation at regular intervals to validate both the problem and your proposed solutions.

Successful innovation requires balance between the dream of new ideas and the discipline necessary to achieve them.⁠

How does this approach generate opportunities?

Disciplined innovation bestows benefits both inside and outside the firm. It generates valuable experience in the innovation team with lessons applicable to the rest of the organisation. It stimulates ownership and accountability and promotes higher commitment than is typical. Best of all, the team may deliver unexpected benefits elsewhere. Beyond the intended objective and its financial success, the innovation process will yield valuable outcomes: new ways of working or thinking, or technologies that transform the organisation. In the marketplace, successful innovation also radiates leadership and a well-honed competitive edge.

How do you implement innovation that yields benefits?

Innovation requires vision, purpose and accountability. First and foremost, a leader needs to clearly communicate the overall direction for the team. Second, accountability is created by establishing a mandate to explore, and potentially fail, provided the process yields tangible benefits. In addition, executive commitment must be more than a mission statement and a budget. It requires active interest, regular catch-up on progress, a critical eye and feedback on deliveries. Finally, the leader must also be able to enlarge the team’s perspective, exposing them to ideas they had not considered.