This podcast turns to what you might first think of it as an unlikely source for innovation best practices. I’m talking about Stephen Covey’s perennial bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I am a major fan of this book. In teaching advanced leadership courses at Arizona State University, this is one of the textbooks that I used. It comes under the heading of being proven and practical which many leadership traditional textbooks fail to measure up to, in my opinion.
And when it comes to best practices, the seven habits in this book are well-documented as highly proven and successful in the real world.
The other day I was looking at the book and the seven habits and I was immediately struck by how the seven habits have direct application to successful innovation. As a result, this podcast will briefly walk through the seven habits and how they contribute to successful innovation.
Let’s get started. The first habit is to be proactive. Covey starts the chapter on this habit with a great quote from Henry David Thoreau, “I know of no more encouraging fact then the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” Innovation is about making something better. When innovation becomes a conscious endeavor, we have the ability to elevate the life and experience of our customers by working on a new product or a company’s employees by working on a new benefit program, to just mention two examples.
Being proactive is establishing a personal vision that can then become a shared group vision. But for each individual it starts as a personal vision. Covey makes the distinction between the circle of influence in the circle of concern. He makes it clear that proactive people don’t worry about everything, but work on the things that they can do something about, which is the circle of influence.
So when it comes to innovation, focus the innovation on those elements that you have the opportunity to influence and in some cases actually change. You cannot change broad cultural values and behaviors in the United States, some of which may be negatively impacting your business. But you can change many things about the product and your customers experience with the product.
The second habit he calls begin with the end in mind. In earlier podcasts, I talked about developing a vision of what success looks like, which is another way of saying this. This is important because as Covey says, “begin with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things.” In other words, the physical creation does not happen if the mental creation does not happen first.
Covey makes a great distinction between management and leadership that both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis share: “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” As an innovation leader, when you begin with the end in mind you help to make sure that you’re doing the right things.
This is very important because pulling together a quantum idea generation can involve a lot of money from the salaries of the internal people to the cost of external experts. You want to make sure that all of the energy and expertise is focused on doing the right thing. Doing the right thing requires making sure that you begin with the end in mind.
The third habit is put first things first. He starts this chapter off with a great quote: “things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
While priority setting is certainly an important part of this, it’s not the only part. Putting first things first requires the ability to make decisions between what is most important ranging down to those things that are least important. Any of you who are in the world of business know that this is easy to say and not always easy to do. But do it you must. You cannot do everything and if you do the likelihood is that nothing will turn out well.
You need the discipline to stay the course with your vision of success. Your decisions need to be made in accordance with that vision – it acts as a sort of compass.
Covey became famous for his time management matrix and its associated four quadrants. The matrix is on two dimensions – urgency and importance. There is urgent and important, important and not urgent, not important and urgent, and not important and not urgent. If you will, this is for levels of priorities.
Innovation is all about making choices. When you’re setting up a multiple day quantum idea generating session, there are always more things you would like to cover then there is time available. Time is not your only limit. To cover everything that you would want to do would require hiring more expensive external expertise and taking more internal people away from their company responsibilities.
The choices you need to make can include what products to focus on what products not to focus on, what dimensions of the chosen product to work on and what you’re not going to work on when it comes to developing innovative ideas. You will have choices about what diversity to bring into the room. Out of the world of all possible stimulus, you need to make choices about which stimulus is most appropriate and likely to produce the big ideas that you need.
These first three habits fall into a group that Covey calls private victory. These habits are about the personal leadership characteristics we need to develop and deploy.
For innovation to be successful you need to be proactive. There needs to be a vision. There needs to be measures of what success looks like. There needs to be the due diligence done to make sure that the vision is the right one.
Doing this requires making decisions, many of which are tough decisions. There choices are about what you are going to do and what you are not going to do.
Without all of this preparation, your innovation will wander, be inefficient and frustrating, and have unacceptably high chances of failure. With all of this preparation, you’ve established a great foundation and very fertile conditions for high levels of creativity and probability of success.
In the next podcast, I will conclude the application of the seven habits of highly successful people to innovation. The next four habits also have the ability to dramatically improve your innovation results.