Normandie, FR My body is zipping along at 234kph aboard the Eurostar. Yet my mind is deep in the Fontainebleau forest behind the leafy INSEAD campus. I’m transported atop a ridge at sunset reflecting on innovation leadership academia. One of the curious things about leadership scholarship is how little there is. Especially innovation leadership. There is much understanding of processes and market dynamics but little on the behaviours of leaders working at the edge of their domain attempting to forge into new territories through technology.
In the corporate real world I’ve often wondered why innovation attracts much interest yet little action. Many want to “look” in the form of a workshops or throwaway comments but not “touch” by committing themselves to taking something to market despite companies desperately wishing they would. A paradox seems that the decrease in organizational hierarchy and decentralization over recent decades has unexpectedly discouraged commitment to seeing innovation through. Without a protective organisation around one chaotic group dynamics really wear you done and erodes confidence in the many micro-decisions of any innovation.
Making it trickier is the fact digital innovation works with software. A material that is actually very abstract even for engineers. It’s a language technically but exists only as pulses of light. You can’t hold it, feel it or smell it. Even though you use it, regularly. At best you tap keyboards, slide fingers over glass or speak to a box but one really doesn’t actually “feel” anything distinct one program to the next. As a professional it can be really hard to commit your whole self to something so immaterial.
Thus a concept I’m exploring is an evolution of adaptive leadership. It is a build of the leader-follower relationship to understand what’s really going on in successful digital innovation leadership. In the concept of quantum leadership we recognize that anyone regardless of title at any moment has the capability to lead some aspects and follow in others. Though it’s more than a binary choice as we aren’t always ready to commit either way. Like quantum computing there is a third state beyond leader and follower in successful innovation efforts; ambivalence.
In ambivalence you are neither leading or following, but also not actively rejecting leading or following. You are holding a position of not having a position. It’s a safe position that allows people to not feel threatened by needing to choose whether to lead or follow at a given moment. It is an active suspension of disbelief. The team takes no judgement. You don’t feel forced to defend just wanting to see how something plays out. It is its own statement of leadership by granting trusting space to your colleagues. 🙂
Let me know if you have examples of quantum leadership and the importance of ambivalence. It might be the topic of some academic research next year.
Your sharing is appreciated as the last edition of Connecting Dots on Unrealised Potential reached over 2,000 readers. Thank you.
You readers of Connecting Dots are a smart lot so let’s learn from each other. Here’s our inaugural rapid Q&A with Nik Badminton who is a futurist, presenter and host of Dark Futures in SF, Toronto and Vancouver.
What aren’t we talking about that we should?
The climate crisis and how we can all have an impact by changing how we live, travel, play and run our companies.
What a unexpected innovator do you admire?
Thomas Heatherwicke is an incredible designer, architect, and innovator. Constantly evolving and pushing boundaries.
What’s the hardest moment of your job?
Staring people in the face and speaking the truth to those that deny obvious change, supported by market indicators and/or science.
What does a break through moment feel like to you?
8 hours of sleep
When it comes to digital innovation what do you wish we knew that we don't?
That digital is not standalone. It surrounds us. It is us.
It’s peak strategy season as we approach the end of the year. I’ll be in Copenhagen/Lund, Zürich/Zug, Vancouver and Parisx2 before Christmas. Say hi for coffee and Christmas chocolate.
See you on the digital frontier,
PS Please forward this newsletter to 2 or 3 of the smartest people you know. I’d love them to subscribe and we can grow the Connecting Dots Community.