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Innovation to the Core

by Guest Writter
Michael Kanazawa, Americas Enterprise Innovation Leader, Ernst & Young

The new disciplines of Innovative Transformers

In today’s environment, disruptive external forces are mandating that companies of all sizes and maturity gain the ability to self-disrupt their growth path and pivot to new directions as quickly as Silicon Valley start-ups. Every successful startup is a unique creation of new products, new markets and new ways of delivering value for customers where innovation, changes in direction and disruption can be weekly events. However, as companies grow, unwritten ways of ‘how things get done’, core competencies, leadership models, and high commitment investments all create a force of inertia, the tendency for things to stay the same. With the mandate to drive greater innovation, how are CEOs driving innovation into the core of their businesses?

Having spent a full career in Silicon Valley, I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from many start-up and growth company CEOs. At the same time my work has focused on bringing Innovation to global corporations as well as serving as a start-up CEO myself. From these experiences, there are a key set of leadership disciplines that are common in CEO’s who effectively lead companies that generate innovation and drive it all the way through large and complex corporate transformations.

These Innovative Transformers are able to bring together the capabilities of innovation with large scale corporate transformation. They are able to guide teams of employees, strategic partners and customers on a journey that simultaneously feels like an incredibly ambitious dream and insanely tactical grind. How do these leaders keep the focus, motivation and drive across their organizations to transform entire corporations and industries? How can you lead like an Innovative Transformer when your business is challenged to reinvent your industry, lead a digital revolution, or pivot your customer value proposition to a new model?

Strategic Innovation Matrix

How to Lead Like an Innovative Transformer

1) Lead with Purpose

Any start-up company has to attract a founding team. When there are no revenues, no customers and no operations, the only thing binding the team together to perform is a desire to achieve some purpose in the marketplace. Purpose defines why an organization exists; it’s unique reason for being, why it is valued by customers and why employees dedicate themselves to the company’s cause. A purposeful burning ambition to change the world for the better can often get lost as a company grows and becomes more focused on maintaining momentum, scaling and achieving target quarterly results.

A recent survey from HBR and EY identified that 84% of executives believe an organization that has a shared purpose will be more successful in transformation efforts. By establishing a clear purpose, a CEO of an organization at any size or stage can re-invigorate employees, spark new concepts for growth and re-connect with it’s reason for being. This foundation provides a positive motivation for innovation and transformational change.

2) Cultivate Design-Centered Strategic Thinking

Design thinking has become a hot topic. Top corporations, business schools and venture capital firms have begun to integrate design thinking as a critical driver of success. Design thinking and diversity of thought have been central elements in how Silicon Valley founder teams are built. Commonly, you will find people of very different experiences and ways of thinking. You will have a dreamer, marketer, technologist and finance wizard all working side-by-side, every day in close collaboration. This blend of diverse thinking that we call the d-school, b-school and t-school blend is how innovation is spawned with collaboration of business, design and technology experts challenging and stretching each other to generate new solutions to tough problems.

Design thinking brings those different views around a common human-centered perspective of creating amazing experiences for customers, partners and employees. Specialization in large companies can give way to siloed thinking. To drive innovation and transformative thinking you can create pockets of diverse design-centered thinking in product teams, IT innovation and strategic planning teams. This will unleash the level of breakthrough creativity and innovation that is achieved in start-up teams every day.  Deliberately building teams with diverse thinking and educational depth across business, design and technical skills can become a baseline to how your organizations or special teams are built.

3) Drive Urgency through Agile Innovation

Having the ability to innovate, pivot and transform quickly is rooted in how the company operates every day, even when not under the threat of disruption. Adopting and applying the concepts of agile software development to how the business operates overall creates a more collaborative and more responsive organization across the business.

Maintaining a diligent sense of future technologies and customer sentiment are at the foundation of driving urgency. Carefully track start-ups who are serving your customers in new ways and could, if heavily funded or acquired by your greatest direct competitor, be a serious threat. It can feel unsettling and uncomfortable to think that customers want things that you don’t provide today and that your company may be irrelevant in the future. However these challenges generate the creative tension that is essential to drive innovation and are the exact same motivators to all companies looking to take your place in the market.


The implications for leading like an Innovative Transformer are significant. When your industry is targeted by disruptive players, the time will be short to generate innovations and drive those fully through a complete corporate transformation. With breakthrough technologies such as predictive analytics, robotic automation, and the internet of things, there are few industries today that are not under threat of disruption. And when the market and customer needs begin to shift, the ability to move beyond acquiring start-ups or launching pilot initiatives will give way to CEO’s needing to drive rapid innovation and quickly drive it fully into the core operations of the business to transform.  These new disciplines should be built today. It is guaranteed that the companies seeking to disrupt your industry are applying these same leadership approaches already, every day.

[Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

About the Author

Michael Kanazawa serves as the Americas Enterprise Innovation Leader at EY (Ernst & Young). He is currently focused on accelerating how companies become Smart Connected Businesses and drive Innovation. He has over 20 years of experience advising corporate executives on strategic growth. He also has hands-on experience building and selling two companies, the most recent acquired by EY in 2014. His current book (with Dr. Robert Miles), Big Ideas to Big Results: Leading Corporate Transformation in a Disruptive World (Pearson, 2016), is a playbook describing how to accelerate corporate transformations and new approaches to drive innovation, agility and speed.

Contact: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelkanazawa

Web: http://performance.ey.com/2015/11/25/becoming-a-smart-connected-business/

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