Exponential Leadership and Innovation


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“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” 

While there is no hard evidence to attribute the above quote to Henry Ford, there is no argument that he was a visionary of his time. He created something that consumers didn’t realize they needed, by making the automobile affordable. He disrupted the current model, and for a time monopolized market share.

No matter the origin of the above statement, business leaders of today are in a race against the clock to innovate faster than their competitors. Innovate or die, the adage goes. As I have mentioned before, there are some that suggest disruptive innovation is a competitive strategy for an “age seized by terror”. My response remains the same. Disruptive innovation is an argument against complacency, made more relevant by a landscape transformed by technology.

In late January, Big Think and Singularity University surveyed 1,283 US based executives about practices related to disruptive innovation. Using questions based on recent research in the field, respondents were asked to identify best practices for disruptive innovation, name a range of companies and leaders excelling these practices, and acknowledge which leadership traits & technologies have the most potential to disrupt businesses in the next five years.

The study is incredibly insightful and reflective, and is a must read for all executives doing business in today’s rapidly changing technological world.


Nearly every attempt at success is met with failures along the way, and properly managing those failures can actually benefit the Innovation process. Failure, therefore, must be tolerated.  Without that freedom to fail, your team’s collective courage to push the status quo will quickly evaporate and freeze your innovation efforts. So: “Fail fast and fail cheap.” Don’t get me wrong; striving for perfection, maintaining the highest of standards, and planning for the future are all very important. At the same time, don’t let the fear of failure immobilize your business either. As Andrew Stanton, Director of Finding Nemo puts it, “We’re gonna screw up, let’s just admit that. Let’s not be afraid of that.”


Another section of the study supports that organizations are executing important disruptive innovation practices, but need to embrace more data and external resources.

The term “Big Data” is nothing new – however, our ability to collect and use this data is growing at an exponential rate. Brands that seek to make deep connnections with their consumers, aim to make these connections personal, and personalization requires rich insights into individual needs, preferences and motivations. As Bob Zurek SVP of Products for Epsilon has pointed out, universities and colleges are starting to develop programs around big data, signifying a new crop of big data pioneers about to enter the workforce to help organizations harness the power of this information. “Big Data” isn’t limited to impacting customer relationships either. It can impact product development, operations, supply, and many other facets of your business.


“Among more established companies, respondents favored leaders who engaged in media and took big bets. Eight of the 10 most cited CEOs creating disruptive innovation had some involvement in media businesses even if their core business model lay elsewhere.”

Leaders must involve their entire organization in the vision of their company, and promote an honest and open climate to achieve a meaningful shared vision of the future. While disruption in innovation is needed, it is impossible to achieve without the right leadership. The leader of your innovation team has to inspire, lead, and drive the process.

How are you preparing for innovation and business model disruption?

To get results in Innovation, a structured, repeatable process is essential from start to finish. Look to all the imperatives of Robert’s Rules of Innovation – but be sure you know how to implement them. Keep an eye out for Robert’s Rules of Innovation, volume II, coming soon!

The Exponential Leadership Survey 2015 was executed by Big Think and Singularity University.

Learn more Here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Robert Brands
Innovation Coach and Author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation" Past CEO of Airspray the manufacturer that brought instant foaming dispensers like hand soap to market


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