The surprising way to come up with your next business idea — Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Fortune

Scott Cook, founder and CEO of Intuit INTU -0.43% , didn’t come up with his concept for the popular Quicken money management software sitting behind the desk or spit-balling ideas in a brainstorming session. He first conceived of it while watching his wife grow increasingly frustrated preparing the family’s finances. From a single observation, combined with Cook’s understanding of computers, one of the world’s most successful financial software companies was born.

Consider all of the times you’ve asked yourself: “Why didn’t I think of that?” Indeed, the world’s next pioneering innovation could be sitting in plain view for anyone to discover. But what is it that inspires some people to take the next step on something overlooked by others?

Our research of high-impact leaders shows about one-third of them fall into the camp of observers –carefully observing the world around them with all of their senses, and identifying common threads across often unconnected data to provoke unique business ideas. Observation has transformative power. Yet, in today’s 24/7 culture, many of us operate on autopilot, starving our brain’s creative capacity. Here are three ways to tune this critical discovery skill and increase the odds that your next observation adds up to great innovation.

Schedule It

The most obvious way to become a great observer is to actively observe. Take a page from Cook’s book and watch your spouse or child perform a task. Schedule observation excursions; pick a company to follow, or set aside 10 minutes to observe something intensely. Following observation periods, think about how that might lead to a new strategy, product service or production process.

Read the full post at Fortune.

Hal Gregersen is Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

How We Rank The Most Innovative Companies 2017 – Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen

Jeff Dyer, Horace Beesley Professor of Strategy at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Forbes

Most innovation rankings are popularity contests based on past performance or editorial whims. We set out to create something very different with the World’s Most Innovative Companies list, using the wisdom of the crowd. Our method relies on investors’ ability to identify firms they expect to be innovative now and in the future. You can learn more about our research on innovation at The Innovator’s DNA website.

Companies are ranked by their innovation premium: the difference between their market capitalization and the net present value of cash flows from existing businesses (based on a proprietary algorithm from Credit Suisse HOLT). The difference between them is the bonus given by equity investors on the educated hunch that the company will continue to come up with profitable new growth.

To be included, firms need seven years of public financial data and $10 billion in market cap. (Facebook, for example, would rank high on the list if we used only the data since they went public.) We include only industries that are known to invest in innovation, excluding industries that have no measurable investment in R&D, so banks and other financial services don’t make the list. Nor do energy and mining firms, whose market value is tied more to commodity prices than innovation. Big caveat: Our picks do not correlate with subsequent investor returns. To the extent that today’s share price embeds high-growth expectations, one might even anticipate low returns to investors, as these expectations may be difficult to meet.

We use something called the Innovation Premium to compile our list. It is calculated first by projecting the cash flows a company produces from its existing businesses without any growth and look at the net present value (NPV) of those cash flows. We compare this base value of the existing business with the company’s current total Enterprise Value (EV): Companies with an EV above their base value have an innovation premium built into their stock price. You can read a more detailed explanation of our work around innovative companies and leaders in our book The Innovator’s DNA (Harvard Business Press, 2011), written with Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. The following steps outline this approach in greater detail:

Read More »

How asking tough questions could save your career — Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Fortune

At age four, we’re fueled with curiosity, asking thousands of questions to better grasp what’s going on around us. Already we are aware, at a very fundamental level, that questioning helps us feel our way around a situation and develop entirely new ways of engaging with the world.

It isn’t long, however, before we enter an educational system that rewards answers more than questions. Consider that the average child between six- to 18-years old asks only one question per one-hour class per month. Contrast that with the average teacher, who peppers kids with 300 to 600 questions a day and waits an average of one second for each reply, and you have a recipe for what I call the “Global Questioning Crisis.”

As adults, many leaders perpetuate this answer-centric culture, playing it safe as they get things done. But, based on my research and firsthand conversations with the most renowned leaders of our time, high-impact innovators know that they must question to disrupt, or risk being disrupted. As such, they sustain this critical skillset, not just by asking more questions, but by identifying the “hot” questions – ones that are provocative, emotional and downright uncomfortable – while also encouraging those around them to be passionate about the same. Finally, they actively pursue answers to these hot questions by leveraging several key discovery skills – observing, networking, experimenting, and associational thinking.

Read More »

What VW can learn from Gen. Stanley McChrystal about imperfect leaders — Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Fortune

The title of Chief Executive Officer commonly conjures up images of a sharply dressed, smooth-talking individual who paints an inspiring, mesmerizing picture of their company in images and words. But it is underneath this veiled exterior that an organization’s real story lives.

When the Volkswagen scandal broke, my first thought went to the leaders of the company. Of course, there is the obvious question: Did former CEO Martin Winterkorn and Volkswagen America CEO Michael Horn know about the cheating (both have denied this)? But for me, a leadership scholar, the fiasco raises much more interesting questions about Winterkorn and Horn’s leadership styles: Did the CEO image or illusion they projected blind them from the realities of their own business? Did they perpetuate a culture where employees were fearful of sharing problems with those at the top? Though we may never know how much knowledge these leaders had prior to the public exposé, it is a compelling case of what can happen when leaders become too focused on an image of perfection. Rather than trying to conform to a pre-cast mold, I believe leaders should abandon their bogus two-dimensional views of leadership.

Read More »

Make it OK for employees to challenge your ideas — Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Harvard Business Review

Kodak. Sears. Borders. The mere mention of any of these companies brings to mind the struggle to stay relevant amid today’s technology and boundless alternatives. But behind each of them lies a deeper story of at least one leader who is or was “sheltered” from the reality of their business.

This dangerous “white space” where leaders don’t know what they don’t know is a critical one. But often, leaders — especially senior ones — fail to seek information that makes them uncomfortable or fail to engage with individuals who challenge them. As a result, they miss the opportunity to transform insights at the edge of a company into valuable actions at the core.

Nandan Nilekani, an Indian entrepreneur, bureaucrat, and politician who co-founded Infosys and was appointed by the Indian prime minister to serve as Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), believes it’s vital to keep this channel of communication open in any leadership position.

“If you’re a leader, you can put yourself in a cocoon … a good news cocoon” said Nilekani during our recent discussion. “Everyone says, ‘It’s alright, there’s no problem,’ and the next day everything’s wrong.”

So how do leaders keep themselves from being isolated at the top? For Nilekani, it comes down to one vital factor: asking and being asked uncomfortable questions.

The question “Why are we the way we are?” inspired him to write his book, Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation, which discusses the education, demographics, and infrastructure of his native country. Following his work with the UIDAI to help create a government database of the entire population of India (named “the biggest social project on the planet”) and his recent campaign for Indian National Congress, the question “How do you get kids to read and how do you get kids to learn arithmetic?” drove Nilekani to create a scaleable solution to bridge the education gap for younger generations in India and other parts of the world. And the umbrella question that defines Nilekani’s leadership journey is, perhaps not surprisingly, “What is it that I can do to have the best possible impact on the most possible people?”

Read the full post at the Harvard Business Review.

Hal Gregersen is Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center and a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management