Innovation Starts with Vision
by Paul Sloane

'Every organisation must prepare for the abandonment of everything it does,' says the great management guru Peter Drucker. What does he mean? In ten years time your business will be completely different from now. There will be more change in the next ten years than in the last thirty. Every product or service you provide, every method, every process, every partnership or delivery system will have been replaced by something better. If this is not the case then the chances are your business will have been superseded by faster-changing competitors. In a world full of consumer choice and powerful new technologies, corporate Darwinism will accelerate - only the fittest and fastest will survive.

The best way to create value is to innovate your way ahead of the competition. You need to create temporary monopolies where your show is the only one in town. You can do this by harnessing the creative power of your greatest asset, your people. The goal is to turn them into opportunistic entrepreneurs who are constantly looking for new ways of doing business.

How can you energize and inspire people to cope with change and to see problems as opportunities for innovation? You start by looking at where the business is today and where you want it to be in the future. You paint a vision of the future for the business. To build an organization which can drive innovation and prosper through change the leader has to start with a clear goal for everyone to aim at. Nothing is more important than communicating this goal. You can not develop a passionate, committed and enthusiastic team if they do not know where they are heading. They have to see the destination and buy into the voyage.

The vision should be stirring, challenging and believable. There are three big gains for the organization from having everyone committed to this vision.

First, people share a common goal and have a sense of embarking on a journey or adventure together. This means they are more willing to accept the changes, challenges and difficulties that the journey will entail.

Secondly, it means that more responsibility can be delegated. Staff can be empowered and given more control over their work. Because they know the goal and direction in which they are heading they can be trusted to steer their own raft and to figure out the best way of getting there.

Thirdly, people will be more creative and contribute more ideas if they know that there are unsolved challenges that lie ahead. They have bought into the adventure so they are more ready to find routes over and around the obstacles on the way.

Lego's mission is 'to nurture the child in each of us.' Vision statements should be short and inspiring. They should avoid vague and woolly clichés about outstanding customer service. The vision should not be restricted to today's type of business. It must set a goal that gives employees enormous freedom in finding ways to achieve it. Tesco's core purpose is 'Creating value for customers, to earn their lifetime loyalty.' Making this happen will ensure that Tesco remains the leading supermarket chain in the UK and allow it to branch into other areas. The pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Smith Kline has a mission 'to improve the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer'. They do not define their mission in mundane terms of drugs or medicines or markets but in inspirational terms of enhancing people's lives.

The vision or mission is the starting point for strategic plans, objectives and metrics. The key performance indicators of the business will measure how progress is made in meeting the goals that flow from the vision. Striving for the vision will always involve change. It is a journey from where we are today to a better future. There is a risk in making the changes necessary on this journey but the leader has to persuade people that there is a bigger risk in standing still. The organizations that have no vision for the future and no desire to change are the ones destined for obscurity and obsolescence.

Just painting the picture is not enough. It quickly fades from view if it is not constantly reinforced. Great leaders spend time with their teams. They illustrate the vision, the goals and the challenges. They explain to people how their role is crucial in fulfilling the vision and meeting the challenges. They inspire men and women to become passionate entrepreneurs finding innovative routes to success.

Paul Sloane was MD of Ashton-Tate and CEO of Monactive. He is the founder of Destination Innovation, which focuses on creative leadership. He writes and speaks on lateral thinking and innovation. He is the author of The Leader's Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills published by Kogan-Page. Visit for additional information.

The Leader's Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills:
Powerful Problem-Solving Techniques to Ignite Your Team's Potential

by Paul Sloane
Kogan Page, Limited
July 2003

Many more articles in Creative Leadership I and Creative Leadership II
in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2004 by Paul Sloane. All rights reserved.

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