February 18, 2021

5 innovation behaviors that business leaders must adopt in the next normal

Scott D. Anthony is a Senior Partner at Innosight and former Managing Partner of the…

Scott D. Anthony is a Senior Partner at Innosight and former Managing Partner of the firm. As the leading expert on disruptive innovation and strategic transformation, Innosight brings a unique set of lenses to growth strategy. In his more than a decade with Innosight, Scott has advised senior leaders in some of the largest companies in the world. He has extensive experience in emerging markets, particularly in India, China, and the Philippines. In 2019, Anthony was recognized as the 9th most influential management thinker by Thinkers50, a biannual ranking of global business thinkers. In 2017, he was awarded the Thinkers50 Innovation Award, which recognizes the world’s leading thinker on innovation.

Anthony is coauthor of the new book Eat, Sleep, Innovate: How to Make Creativity an Everyday Habit Inside Your Organization. His book is about innovation and how organizations can make innovation a day-to-day habit. Anthony is a prolific contributor to Harvard Business Publishing. He is the most published digital author on HBR.org and is Harvard Business Corporate Learning’s most in-demand subject matter expert. Anthony’s previous books are Dual Transformation; The First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas Into the MarketSeeing What’s Next: Using the Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change (with Innosight co-founder and Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen); The Innovator’s Guide to Growth: Putting Disruptive Innovation to WorkThe Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain TimesThe Little Black Book of Innovation: How It Works, How to Do It; and Building a Growth Factory. Anthony is also a featured speaker on topics of innovation and growth. 

To learn more about how companies can identify, create and deliver disruptive innovation, and manage strategic transformation, Ray Wang, CEO and founder of a Silicon Valley-based advisory firm Constellation Research, and I invited Scott D. Anthony to our weekly show DisrupTV. Here are the key takeaways of our conversation with Anthony. 

Innovators are relentlessly curious

Anthony first met Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen by taking one of his courses in his second year at Harvard. Anthony fondly shared memories of being a student in Christensen’s classes. Anthony learned many important lessons from working with professor Christensen for many years as a co-author, business partner and long-time friend. Anthony talked about a sign outside of professor Christensen’s office that read: “anomalies wanted.” Professor Christensen was relentlessly curious and always seeking to learn. He was always looking for things that didn’t fit. He wanted feedback about his research even if the conclusions were orthogonal to his findings. 

The pandemic has made innovation a necessity 

In his book ‘Eat, Sleep, Innovate’, Anthony talks about what innovation is, how do you exactly innovate, what prevents successful innovation, and how do you overcome these innovation barriers. Innovation is something different that creates value. There are 5 behaviors that drive innovation success. The biggest barrier for innovation success is inertia. To overcome inertia, you have habits with proven techniques from the behavior change literature. 

The permanent impact of the pandemic on innovation

Anthony spoke about what he believes to be long-terms effects of the pandemic on businesses and trajectory of innovation. What will the future world look like? Anthony captured 300 trends due to the pandemic. The first accelerated trend is the adoption of digital technologies. Companies now view digital transformation as key to their survival. The second trend is the transformation of healthcare including remote treatment and monitoring and innovation at the edges. Anthony talked about income distribution and emergence of the middle class in emerging markets and disruptions and fragmentations in supply chains. Anthony spoke about post pandemic predictions about innovation opportunities. He believes we will see some amazing innovations and successful startups created at this time. The jobs to be done theory will help us identify solutions that get the job done better and where they have learned that new solutions are not good enough. Example, virtual meetings are working well and will continue. Business travel will never reach 2019 levels in the future, according to Anthony. Virtual education however is not quite at the levels we need. 

The five behaviors that are most important to innovation

Innovation is something different that creates value. Anthony identifies the five behaviors that are the most critical for cultivating an innovative culture. The five behaviors are: 

  1. Curiosity. The quest to do something different that creates value starts with a question. You ask “What if?” to begin the innovation journey. Why not? How might we? 
  2. Customer obsession. If you want to create value, you have to solve a problem that matters to your customer. You have to find a job that they are struggling to get done.
  3. Collaboration. Magic happens at intersections, when different mindsets and skills collide together. Great innovators plant themselves at those intersections. Great innovators recognize that none of us is as smart as all of us.
  4. Be adept in ambiguity. We know innovation is never a straight line. Innovation success comes from trial-and-error experimentation, and requires being willing to fumble, take false steps, and sometimes fail.
  5. Empowerment. You cannot do something different to create value until you do something. You actually have to put your idea into action. 

Anthony roughly maps the behaviors to the innovation journey. He places a high emphasis on curiosity and being adept in ambiguity. Ultimately innovation is about trial and error and experimentation. You cannot simply study your way towards successful innovation. You have to design and execute against smart experiments and learn from their results what separates the innovation winners and losers. 

Successful innovation is about Day One 

“Keep inventing, and don’t despair when at first the idea looks crazy. Remember to wander. Let curiosity be your compass. It remains Day 1,” wrote Jeff Bezos. Anthony spoke about the email Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, sent to employees, announcing that he was stepping down as their CEO. The last sentence was about a growth mindset. The email is about curiosity at the core of the organization. It is about possibilities and allowing our imagination to drive us. Anthony referenced many other companies that have intellectual curiosity as a superpower. They made sure that they don’t fall prey to one of the big challenges that companies face. In summary, they realize: 1. Innovation is something different, 2. Organizations exist to do what they are currently doing more effectively and more efficiently, 3. Left unchecked, everything in your organization is optimized to perpetuate the present and it strangles the creation of the future. It is that inertia that is your big barrier and the organizations that successfully innovate have systematic ways to make sure they are not straggled by this inertia. 

Successful innovators manage intelligent failures

Anthony talked to us about notable failures in his career and the lessons he learned along the way. Anthony works for a firm that was co-founded by arguably the father of disruptive innovation, which means that he is very adept with ambiguity and experimentations. Anthony talked about intelligent failures. The team had clear assumptions. The team had very clear experiments that they ran. And the team was very honest with themselves, meaning if the results didn’t work, they would take the learnings out of it, and then they would stop, so that they can be better consultants and able to do even a better job the next time. 

I highly encourage you to watch the entire interview with Scott D. Anthony. We continued our conversation about the innovation economy and the startup ecosystems in Singapore. Anthony named a number of unicorn startups in Singapore and the changing and growing business landscape. We also talked about post pandemic predictions.