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Forty-four quarters. That’s how I describe my tenure as CEO of a public company subsidiary. I served in this position for 10 years, which sounds much more impressive, so why express it in quarters? I could save people a bit of mental math, but I think this phrase better captures what many leaders feel: a drive to constantly and consistently renew their efforts to meet ongoing expectations for growth.
It’s no wonder that innovation has become a core part of the discussion for leadership teams. There is an allure in doing something completely new that could provide sustained value to the business. And it sounds like a lot of fun! I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of smart executives over the years who have undertaken ambitious and promising innovation initiatives. No matter the industry or the particular innovation challenge, I’ve noticed something consistent: the further a company reaches beyond its core capabilities in order to innovate, the more likely they are to get stuck.
Let me be clear—this is not an indictment of those companies or their leaders. Getting stuck is the most natural thing in the world when we’re trying something far outside our typical sphere of operation. As a leader, it’s critical you recognize when “stuck” happens. You may notice that progress seems extraordinarily slow. You may have a lot of meetings and talk about the initiative often, but very little comes from these discussions.
Funnily enough, you may be able to diagnose your team is stuck by taking a look at your email inbox. I met with one executive who turned her laptop around and showed me a message with over 300 people cc’d and bcc’d. In my experience, this explosion of communication bubbles up to mask an underlying problem: When we don’t know what to do next, we enlist more and more people to help share the burden.
If any of this sounds familiar, here are three steps to getting unstuck and putting your innovation project back on track: