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‘Innovation key to business growth, sustainability’


Neal Hartman

Professor Neal Hartman is Head of a management division at the MIT Sloan School of Management and has experience in entrepreneurship, management, intercultural communication, conflict resolution, leadership and innovation. Preparatory to TEXEM’s training programme in Lagos, next month, he talks on the need for corporate leaders and businesses to embrace innovation for sustainability and growth. Excerpts.

How can a Nigerian leader make an innovative impact in his organization?
Nigerian leaders have opportunities to make innovative impacts on their organizations in several ways. Their task is to turn their organizations into innovation leaders. Leaders can make intentional changes to organizational processes and products in order to create economic value along with social and environmental benefits.

What skills could be acquired to achieve organizational growth?
It is critical to shift thinking from achieving short-term goals/profits to thinking long-term. Leaders must focus on developing and maintaining relationships with employees, clients, and the community. Leaders also need to explore how they can reduce waste, lower pollution, and decrease the number of natural resources they consume. The essential ingredient to accomplishing these goals is through innovation.

Do you think Nigerian leaders have acquired the necessary skills to impact globally?
Certainly, there are wonderful examples of Nigerian leaders who are working diligently to turn their organizations into innovation leaders as well as leaders who are actively developing and promoting policies to enhance sustainability. Yet there are so many examples of the work that remains to be done, focusing on issues of poverty, education, infrastructure, the environment, improving their capacity to make better decisions and build successful firms that endure to name a few.

How well do you consider an innovative leader valuable to an organization especially in this turbulent time?
An innovative leader is extremely valuable to organizations during turbulent times. Because these innovative leaders are constantly experimenting and focusing on sustainability, their organizations are better equipped to deal effectively with scandals, employee strikes, consumer boycotts, stiff competition, disruptive technology or global recessions.

Is an innovative skill important for leaders to acquire especially in this 21st century?
The world is moving rapidly in the 21st century and organizations that do not innovate and change will be left behind to disappear. Innovation is crucial for survival, growth, and consolidation. Innovation must be aligned with strategy and be a means of unlocking stakeholder value.

How does an innovative skill place a leader ahead of his peers?
An innovative leader is always looking forward, thinking about new ideas, and new ways of doing work, new products, and new markets. The innovative leader will always be steps ahead of the more conservative leader who is less comfortable with change. Thus, an innovative leader will outperform competitors, disrupt the industry and achieve superlative performance.

What level of success can a leader or organisation achieve without being innovative?
Leaders may be successful for a limited amount of time by providing stability to an organization, but ultimately things change. Look at the technology such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the internet of things that we operate with today and remember that 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago many of these technologies did not exist. We must understand that things change and leaders need to drive much of that change.

It is difficult for an organization to survive without an innovative leader. The organization may thrive for a time, but without innovating products, processes and companies become things of the past-Think about Kodak, PanAm and Compaq-The common denominator that led to the failure of all these companies is inadequate innovation.

True inventive leaders want to create a culture where creativity and innovation happen throughout the organization. Ideas come from many sources and innovative companies promote ways for all employees to feel empowered to suggest new ideas.

In your experience, how far do leaders with little or no innovation skill go?
When one looks at leaders in top positions in all kinds of organizations, one typically finds people who articulate the company’s goals and values around change, innovation, and sustainability initiatives. Innovative leaders help their companies to be profitable, socially responsible, innovative, and sustainable.

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Neal Hartman
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