Knowing is an anchor to the present. As professionals in the world of business, our careers often begin with the selection and schooling of a vocation. We follow that by joining an organization that values our knowledge and experience. In our careers as in our lives, great value is placed on what we know. Information is valuable. One wouldn’t go to an electrician for open-heart surgery after all. However, what we know is not the only game in town. At times I have found that what I know, has not only limited my thinking, it has caused me to reject game-changing ideas.

Transformational Leadership at work

Moving into a previously unknown world is at the heart of innovation and transformation. Breakthrough is creating an inspiring future distinct from the present in the face of not knowing how to create that future. Transformational leadership is required to guide an organization to fulfill on what is possible by unhooking from what’s known in the present. A life-long lover of science, as a child the most exciting future that I could envision for myself was to grow up to be some sort of female hybrid of Mr. Spock and Jacques Cousteau. Not surprisingly I studied chemistry and joined the business world in medical device product development. In a market-leading organization of highly trained, exceptionally bright, motivated professionals, I found that our ability to produce transformational innovation was often blocked by what we knew.

Success Breeds Success – Or Does It?

Our innovation process typically started with an understanding of where we wanted to go. What were the unmet needs of the consumer? What were the limitations of the current products/processes? What emerging technologies would allow us to forward our technology and/or product offering? After identifying the end point, we would ask, ‘how do we get there from here?’ There is a fatal flaw in this approach. Consciously or unconsciously, both the definition of the endpoint as well as how to get there were firmly grounded in today’s reality.

Where we are today is a function of the past and what we have learned along the way: how long it takes to get things done, who the go-to people are, what the data and science support, etc. All that knowing how it is boxed us in. It was only when we gave ourselves room to envision a future, while being completely disassociated from the present, did the magic really happen. That is at the heart of transformation and transformational leadership.

Unhook From The Present

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

                                                                        —–Albert Einstein

Generating from possibility removes the constraints of the present.   This approach is effective in problem solving, setting strategy, and innovation scenarios to name a few. Some considerations when doing this:

  • Envision the future state without being linked to the present. Create it as a separate entity.
  • Include others that don’t have knowledge of the situation or subject.
  • Accept all possibilities in the beginning.
  • Be bold. If it doesn’t provoke some level discomfort, likely it is business-as- usual.

Transformational leadership is essential when business-as-usual no longer fulfills the needs or vision of the organization. Part two of this blog will explore the organizational environment most conducive for sustainable innovation and transformation.

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