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Business transformation

The new rules of innovation for enterprise leaders

Article Mar 26, 2024 Read time: min
By: Warrick Cramer

In the technology business, we’re surrounded by innovation. But I see less attention paid to which leadership skills make innovation part of the corporate DNA—rather than a supplement.

I think about innovation every day, and my role at Kyndryl is to help build it into our DNA. My work is to look ahead 2 to 5 years and anticipate what will impact our business so we can plan and react before something unexpectedly disrupts business-as-usual and our market share.

The hard reality is that organizations that don’t innovate will struggle to survive. Ask Blockbuster or Kodak or Blackberry.

So, what does it take to lead those efforts and build innovation muscle within a global enterprise? I offer three new rules of innovation for you to consider.

Rule 1: There’s no silver bullet

We live in a get-it-now world of instant gratification. As consumers and business professionals, we’re conditioned to expect results out of tiny engagement windows. That’s not a breeding ground for innovation.

Innovation is not a moment in time or a magic wand that will turbocharge the share price. It’s a long-term mindset. Innovation happens because someone says, “Hold on. How can we do this better?”

Getting to the root of the question requires research time, experimenting, and ultimately, the work of selling-in your ideas. That’s what the startups you may compete with are doing—and it could be a 5- or 7-year journey for the successful ones to move from startup to Series A funding.

As an innovation leader, you must be comfortable with the fact that innovation isn’t the business of quarterly returns. It’s a journey. It takes years to become what others may perceive as an overnight success. Innovation requires patience, and you can expect to navigate friction points with those who expect more immediate results.

Innovation isn’t a moment in time or a magic wand that will turbocharge the share price. It’s a long-term mindset. Innovation happens because someone says, “Hold on. How can we do this better?

Rule 2: You always need a Plan B

The year 2024 hosts a staggering number of significant elections worldwide. At least 64 countries, accounting for roughly half of the world’s population, will hold national elections.1

We live and compete in an environment of geopolitical unrest. At the same time, we also experience generational differences in how we work, regulatory changes, skills shortages and other major disruptors of industries.

Disruption is everywhere, creating an intangible dynamic when your remit is to drive innovation. It requires a different approach. It’s no longer enough for you or your team to simply be experts in your industry. You must be able to see multidimensional trends and join dots that previously may not have existed.

How will your business deliver for customers in a scenario when ports worldwide shut down and the global shipping industry grinds to a halt? How will you pivot? What’s your Plan B?

As an innovation leader, you have to anticipate the headwinds and continuously look at ways to mitigate risk for the business. There are always curveballs. If innovation weren’t moving so quickly, we wouldn’t need a different type of leader today.   

Innovative leaders must be open to an environment of continuous change.

Rule 3: Transformation is personal

Business schools and leadership books teach about different leadership styles. There are bureaucratic leaders, servant leaders, democratic leaders and other leadership approaches.

Innovative leaders can find a home in any of those leadership styles—if they add a layer of comfort with being uncomfortable and an openness to continuous change. It's a mindset.

A traditional view of leadership would be that you can’t make mistakes and you have to get it right 100% of the time. I think the innovative leader has to expect mistakes. Create a team culture that suggests if you’re not failing at least some of the time, you’re not moving forward. My opinion is that the biggest moments of growth happen when you’re really bad at something, you fail, and you do the self-reflection.

Hear more on the podcast

On Kyndryl’s podcast, The Progress Report, Onoff Telecom CEO Taïg Khris and I discuss reinvention and other aspects of innovation in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Go here to listen in: “Meaning, purpose, and impact: Why contributing to UNSDG is good business.”

Warrick Cramer is Global Vice President of Innovation Strategy for Kyndryl.