Too many leaders suffer from “leadership myopia”—a short-sighted view of opportunities.The cure does not require an extreme makeover—all it takes is the injection of the DNA of a business innovator into our thinking to get “unstuck” and discover new sources of revenues for the future.
Martin Scorsese’s recent movie, Hugo, quotes the famous story from 1895 about the Lumière brothers, early pioneers in motion picture technology, who have been cited as dismissing the entire cinema industry as a passing fad. Their focus on techniques and technologies didn’t allow them to see either the power of the stories that could be told in the new medium of film or the commercial potential of this new genre. The reference reminded me of a strategy session I participated in with the IT group of a large financial institution in 1995–100 years after the Lumières’ comment–when one of the key team members described e-commerce as a fad. And, over the years, I’ve sat through hundreds of strategic conversations that suffered from the same symptoms—a lack of vision about our own possibilities for growth.
Too many leaders suffer from this exact syndrome–“myopic optics”—that particular breed of leadership disorder that blinds us from seeing our competitive landscape for what it truly is. And worse, myopic optics create a huge brick wall when it comes to planning for the future. We simply cannot see our opportunities when we spend so much energy pacing around our own rooms, or peering out through our windows looking only at the competition right outside our walls—unable to see beyond.
Luckily, there’s a cure.
Clayton Christensen, Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen’s book, The Innovator’s DNA, Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, offers powerful techniques for thinking outside of our own perspectives—a set of “discovery skills” that I believe all business leader can integrate into our strategic checklists to loosen our blinders and direct us toward new revenues. The common thread linking all of the strands of DNA they describe is a refreshing, step-by-step process for asking new questions and shifting our vantage points.
Here’s exactly what Christensen, Dyer, and Gregersen would have suggested to the Lumière brothers in 1895 and the bank executives in 1995 as cure to their myopic optics:
1. Associate. The book tells the tale of how Mark Benioff came up with the idea for Salesforce.com by combining years of software experience with companies like Oracle with his observations from the emerging field of e-commerce (not a fad after all, as it turned out.) He asked himself two questions that combined two elements in a new way, “Why aren’t enterprise software systems built more like eBay and Amazon? Why can’t customers pay for a computer service as they use it?” Those two questions paved the way for what is now a company with upwards of 2 billion dollars of annual revenues.
2. Question (differently). The Innovator’s DNA describes the approach taken by Dr. William Hunter, founder of Canadian-based Angiotech Pharmaceuticals. His insight into a new approach to surgical stents shifted his industry’s traditional question, “How can we build a better stent” to the question of “What does the body do to these stents and why do they fail?” His new questions led to a stent coated with a drug that reduced scar tissue and set a new standard.
3. Observe (with an outsider’s set of eyes). When Ratan Tata, chair of India’s Tata Group, observed a family of four, driving through the streets of Mumbai on a single scooter in the middle of a huge downpour. The image stuck with him and envisioned a vehicle that was as affordable as a scooter but that offered protection from the rain. That image inspired the Tata Nano, India’s car of the year in 2010.
The Innovator’s DNA goes on to emphasize the importance of two additional steps in the process: networking with people outside of your industry—to provoke a fresh perspective and experimenting—to bridge the gap between the inspired moment of “what if” and the creation of sustainable revenues and longer-term competitive advantage.
In today’s market, leaders are expected to bring powerful tools to the table to direct our teams toward a future that guarantees revenue growth. We are tempted to equip ourselves with the equivalent of crystal balls and stealth missiles to lead us toward the best next path for growth. I recommend that we begin the process instead with a simple first step—the equivalent of casting off our blinders and knocking down our brick walls. We should start with a checklist divided into three categories, based on the discovery skills described by Christensen, Dyer and Gregersen: associate, question and observe. This new vantage point will allow us to envision a compelling future for emerging technologies (like cinema in 1895) and transform what could have been dismissed as merely a passing fad into a significant opportunity for the future.
About Andrea: Andrea Kates is the founder of the Business Genome® project and author of the visionary business innovation book, Find Your Next (McGraw-Hill, November 2011).