Innovation: Five actions every leader should take

Innovation: Five actions every leader should take

In my doctoral research on organisational creativity, I used a template developed by educator Mel Rhodes in 1961. Rhodes outlined what he called the 4 P’s of creativity (not to be confused with the 4 P’s of marketing).

The 4 P’s are:

Person: Covers skills, personality, values etc.

Process: How you go about being creative.

Product: The outcome or product of a creative action.

Press: The environment or culture.

In my work with leaders on innovation I often use this model as a way of highlighting the different elements of an innovative organisation and how they are all interdependent. For example, a training course in creative thinking skills (ie person and process) will not be effective if the culture (ie press) is not open to new ideas.

In my research I found that while this model was useful, it missed what I thought was the most important ingredient: leadership. I realised that without leaders funding, recognising and rewarding innovation, nothing much happens. In short, leaders have to be open and receptive to innovation and role-model innovative behaviour.

And this is the key. Creativity and innovation only emerges when someone does something. I often ask leaders to tell me about innovation at their organisation. They point to innovation principles on the wall or as part of a vision or values statement (these are important) but when I push for an example of an innovative action or product, there is often a shuffling of feet. Common questions I ask are: What have you done differently these past few months? What is new or different in your approach?

My point is this, innovation involves action: not planning, talking or intending to be innovative. The only way to lose weight, for example, is to start exercising or dieting (or better still, a combination of the two). It is exactly the same with innovation – it involves taking action, change and risk-taking, and that is difficult.

To help leaders start acting more innovatively, perhaps the best advice I have come across is from a book written by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M Christensen called The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators (2011).

The five ‘discovery’ skills they describe are:

“Innovators ask provocative questions that challenge the status quo.  They observe the world like anthropologists to detect new ways of doing things. They network with people who don’t look or think like them to gain radically different perspectives. They experiment relentlessly to test new ideas and try out new experiences. Finally, these behaviours trigger new associations which let them to connect the unconnected, thereby producing disruptive ideas.’ (

Question, observe, network, experiment and connect are proactive actions that every leader can and should take if they truly want to build a more innovative team, division or business.


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