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Harry Hertz

Innovation

The Boss and the Innovator

Visionary bosses provide a supportive environment

Published: Wednesday, November 25, 2015 - 10:24

I feel like I should start this article with something like: “An innovator and a boss walk into a bar....” But I don’t have a punch line to follow it, so I’ll stick to the facts.

I recently read a blog post titled, “Think Like an Author, Not an Owner.” I felt the story should be more accurately cast as thinking like an innovator and a boss, and that it allowed me to make an important point that is emphasized in the Baldrige Excellence Framework.

You have probably never heard of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit; at least I hadn’t. Oswald was the 1920’s creation of Walt Disney and Ubbe Iwerks, Disney’s star graphic artist. Oswald was owned by Universal Studios. After Oswald became a success, Universal’s executives told Disney to cut costs and increase productivity, or Universal would hire (“steal”) Disney’s best animators.

Disney and Iwerks kept their animators, left Oswald to Universal, and went on to create Mickey Mouse and the first full-length animated film, Snow White. Disney invested all his money, and borrowed more money to create the film and achieve one of his visions.

Decades later, in an interesting twist of fate, when John Lassater and Ed Catmull wanted to create the first computer-animated film, they were unable to get the support they needed at Disney, so they founded Pixar and created Toy Story. However, Disney owned the rights to the characters. Pixar went on to create Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo, which had no Disney characters. When Disney subsequently realized the creative ingenuity at Pixar, it merged with Pixar, and Lassater now heads Disney’s animation division.

In both these instances, first at Universal and then at Disney, the leaders thought only like bosses who were looking at immediate income and short-term expenses. They didn’t focus on the potential for breakthrough innovation (ironic in Disney’s case with Pixar), or weigh what intelligent risks to take for the long-term success and growth of their companies. Innovators aren’t motivated by a short-term focus that stifles their creativity. They need encouragement and a supportive environment, and they will reward their organizations handsomely.

This brings us to a focus point that has been part of the Baldrige Framework for several years now: the role of visionary leaders in creating an environment that supports innovation, and realizing the value of managing for innovation. Visionary leaders have an organizational process for seeking strategic opportunities and pursuing those that are intelligent risks. They balance short-term needs and long-term success. They motivate all employees to think outside the box. Their organizations constantly scan the environment for opportunities that arise from inside and outside their industry. A practice in another industry, when adapted, could be an innovation in your industry.

Innovation results from a supportive environment and intelligent risk taking. The leader has to start by first providing the supportive environment.

First published Nov. 17, 2015, on the Blogrige.

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About The Author

Harry Hertz’s picture

Harry Hertz

Harry Hertz retired in June 2013 from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where he had served as director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program since 1995. For more than 15 years he was the primary architect of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, responsible for expansion of the Baldrige Program and Award to healthcare, education, and nonprofits, including government. Hertz serves on the advisory group for VHA’s Center for Applied Healthcare Studies, and on the adjunct faculty of American University. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a Ph.D. from M.I.T.