In this episode of the DevReady Podcast, our hosts, Andrew Romeo and Anthony Sapountzis are joined by Andrew Grant, Director of Tirian Innovative Solutions and the Author of two highly acclaimed books, The Innovation Race and Who Killed Creativity. Andrew recorded a three-part Creativity Series with the DevReady Podcast, centered around his book, Who Killed Creativity and, in this episode, he talks about The Innovation Race. In this book, he and Gaia Grant take the latest academic research and present it in an accessible way to make a compelling case for forging a sustainable future driven by innovation. Listen to the episode to understand how to ask critical questions like – Why do we innovate? Are we at risk of innovating for the sake of innovation? What could we be doing better? – and to know why ambidexterity is vital in leadership.
Andrew and Gaia are a husband-and-wife team who have made it their mission to help people with leadership and team skills. About 15 years ago, they started to look at the concept of creative thinking and design thinking and wrote a book on creativity called ‘Who Killed Creativity.’ Then a couple of years following that, they started looking at innovation and innovation leadership. As Gaia’s Ph.D. was on innovation leadership, sustainable innovation, or ambidextrous leadership, the duo has been conducting groundbreaking research on becoming a sustainable leader. They wanted to bring sustainable innovation to the fore—to make everyone understand what it means to innovate without burning out or fading out but getting through and bringing a sustainable company to the market.
Having looked at over 70 companies globally and interviewed over 70 CEOs and Chief Innovation Officers, asking them about their sustainable innovation concept; and combining that with the understanding of innovative cultures that go as far as ancient Egypt and Rome, and Greece, the duo highlights the need to look at what companies, counties and cultures win, lose or get eliminated. Andrew emphasizes that the principles of innovation remain the same—doesn’t matter if we go back thousands of years or if we fast forward to some of the leading companies today, and being able to implement those principles is much more likely to lead companies—both big and small—to long term sustainable innovation.
Andrew then describes how the research led them to the Paradox Theory or Ambidexterity. He explains two types of leadership styles: exploration and preservation. Some leaders focus on exploration—innovative and breakthrough ideas while others focus on preservation—incrementally building systems and structures for stability. While explorer leaders tend to skid off the road with their sole focus on exploration and openness to breakthrough ideas, the preserver leaders’ companies don’t exist anymore because they got disrupted by the innovative market. So, the goal is to balance the ambidexterity between exploration and preservation.
Further developing the two forms of leadership, Andrew talks about the nested dimensions. Inside exploration, there are four nested dimensions, and they are: flexibility, collaboration and openness and freedom. And these dimensions help guide you. And then on the preservation side, the four nested dimensions are: a certain level of control, a certain level of focus, a certain level of independence and a certain level of stability. A good leader needs to maintain balance between the two sides.
Andrew furthers that differences in leadership styles lead to tensions in the company but what we need to do is acknowledge that tension is there. We have to acknowledge that tension is healthy and we have to use that tension between those that want to explore and those that want to preserve to pull us forward rather than rip us apart.
- What is sustainable innovation?
- The two leadership styles: exploration and preservation
- Need for ambidexterity
- Understanding tension and managing it well
- Learning from ancient cultures
Key Quotes (Time Stamps)
- We want to bring the concept of what it means to bring long-term sustainable innovation, not burn out, not fade out but actually get through and bring to market a sustainable company, leader.” (1:54 – 2:06)
- “But it is a concept that we do need to look at—what companies, countries, and cultures win, lose or get eliminated should we dribble it down to a reality TV show metaphor? But the concept is interesting because it doesn’t matter whether you look at current companies or cultures or existing ones in history. There are some principles that you can see whether you go back thousands of years or come as far forward as some of the leading companies now—the principles are the same. And if we can take those principles, whether we’re big or small, we’ll be much more likely to lead long-term sustainable innovation.” (2:45 – 3:26)
- “And the big breakthrough here is that leaders or companies that only focused on exploration, on openness to breakthrough new ideas, if they only focused on that, they would skid off. If we’re using the concept of racing down a road, they would skid off to the left. And of course, the leaders that only focused on preservation, small incremental breakthrough ideas. Well, these are the companies that don’t exist anymore because they got disrupted by the innovative market.” (4:47 – 5:13)
- “The problem with that is we don’t read about survivorship bias. We don’t read about the companies that explored and never made it. So, they might be, for every Elon Musk or Bezos or whatever, there might be hundreds of millions of people that we’re almost as close.” (5:25 – 5:41)
- “So, we’ve got to be really careful of survivorship bias and not just worship these gurus that seem to tell: take risks, explore, go out there, come up with breakthrough ideas. Not that it’s not important, but the real issue here is the ability to balance the ambidexterity between exploration and preservation.” (5:59 – 6:19)
- “Inside the exploration, there are four nested dimensions, and they are flexibility, collaboration and openness and freedom. And they are dimensions that will help guide you. So you need flexibility, you need collaboration, you need openness, and you need freedom. And then on the preservation side, the four nested dimensions: you need a certain level of control, a certain level of focus, a certain level of independence, and a certain level of stability. And so you could run those four guardrails up the left side of the road and the right side of the road, realizing that these are what we need.” (6:26 – 7:07)
- “Unfortunately, leaders left unchecked, if it’s unconscious, will not only follow their natural bias and think it’s great because we’re all very self-confident, but they’ll tend to pick a team that is also, yes, man. I mean, there’s that great story of make Mark happy in Meta/Facebook, and making Mark happy cost $13 billion in 2022, because Mark decided he wanted to get into the Metaverse, and he literally raced off down the left side of the road of freedom, but in a controlling style.” (8:53 – 9:26)
- “One, we have to acknowledge that tension is there. We have to acknowledge that tension is healthy and we have to use that tension between those that want to explore and those that want to preserve, to actually pull us forward rather than rip us apart.” (13:37 – 13:52)
- “You don’t have to be an explorer to innovate. You can innovate through preservation, but what you really need is a team approach or what is now being called ambidextrous leadership.” (19:01 – 19:13)
- “So, if innovation is a race, we have to make sure that as a company, we take the racing line at its absolute maximum speed without skidding off the track and without hugging the left side of all exploration because you won’t get round fast or the right side of your preservation. And so, each leader’s job is to create a strategy, put it on a racing line, and then ask themselves, when do we need to be on the left side? When do we need to be on the right side? When do we need to explore? When do we need to preserve? And who’s best at driving?” (20:57 – 21:28)
- “So, you’ve got to now start questioning the intentions of a leader. If the leader is pride driven rather than purpose driven, there’s a warning you’re about to get off the rails. If the leader is all about domination rather than progress; there’s a warning, you’re about to get off the rails.” (25:12 – 25:26)
- “For every one safety officer these companies have, they have a floor of tech officers that want one thing and that’s engagement. So, a bit like the Pharaohs that were only interested in domination, that’s how Egypt crashed. The Pharaohs weren’t purpose-driven. They were pride driven. And if our tech companies are pride driven, we will crash. And we’re not immune from crashing.” (35:46 – 36:07)
- “If you bring in, a new drug in the market, you’ve got to get FDA approval. But you can bring in if you bring a new car on the market, it needs to go through registration. The tech’s moving so fast that the government and the bureaucracy and the politicians can’t keep up.” (36:54 – 37:07)
- “Well, what type of company culture do we have? Are we typically more of an exploring company or are we typically more of a preserving company? And what were we? What are we? What do we need to be? (44:25 – 44:38)
Social Media Clips (Time Stamps)
- From uncovering creativity to decoding innovation (0:48 – 3:26)
- Ambidexterity as a balance between exploration and preservation (3:37 – 6:24)
- Nested dimensions of exploration and preservation (6:25 – 8:28)
- Overcoming the natural bias in leaders (8:33 – 11:52)
- Leaders need to balance the tension in the team (11:53 – 15:37)
- Learning ambidexterity from ancient cultures (18:26 – 19:13)
- Collaborative Canvas (19:31 – 22:03)
- Leader needs to be purpose-driven (23:55 – 26:56)
- Is the future Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a very large and broad spectrum of technologies which most people would be familiar with through...? (28:24 – 33:50)
- iCLi assessment (43:30 – 44:38)
Buy the Book: The Innovation Race