Leadership for Innovation; the fallacy of the left/right side of the brain & other stories

21 Jun 2017

Posted by Anna Doyle

seek innovation behind your left ear...

The BIMA network has had a couple of sessions this year on innovation, including incubating innovation and innovative collaborative with clients. Innovation is perceived as a good thing and yet it can be hard to sell it to the client or engage them in the process. The previous BIMA events have considered how innovation is defined (or not), difficulties in delivering truly innovative projects and the widely perceived issue that innovation = risk (both with the client and within the team).

This latest event in the BIMA CSD roundtable programme was led by Dr Chris Bilton of University of Warwick and Linda Green of Leading Creative Talent who shared with us their 3 Ps to successfully unlocking effective leadership for innovation. Or as one of the attendees put it: “considering we only had 90 minutes I thought it was a great exploratory taster into the challenges we all face around marshalling our clients and teams in a less traditional way and knowing which buttons to press with positive outcomes – especially in light of the complexity of the client organisation”.

The three P’s are: Patterns; People; and Purpose but before we delved in for a deeper look we had a quick round up of some of the client challenges experienced in the room, all born from, and relevant to, the desire to deliver the best possible solution for the client:

- There is too much client focus on TV when there are so many other routes that could create much more effective engagement with the customer

- We operate in a constantly shifting landscape and the things we used to do no longer give us success

- Delivering against a desire for “results now” vs the need for longer term brand building

- Asserting and creating a context for content

- Managing the client’s fear of losing control in an innovative process

- Establishing the agency role in the big ideas at the beginning of a process rather than be the task fulfiller at the end of the project.

This last point segues nicely into the observation that the client sees themselves as strategy and the agency as product delivery. There was agreement in the room that co-creation provides a much stronger process for creating innovative ideas and solutions and it was at this point that Linda got the first P out of the bag…

… Patterns

Chris and Linda split team roles into four categories and asked everyone in the room to identify which role was their preference (and you can sit between two roles):

CLARIFY – identify the challenge

IDEATE – Generate ideas

DEVELOP – Bring ideas to life

IMPLEMENT – Make ideas happen

Then they asked everyone to consider their clients and think where they may perceive themselves within the 4 roles. The point being that if your client is an ideator and you are trying to talk to them about implementation you are not on a road to success. Assess where you think your client sits within the roles and adjust your approach accordingly. Start with their comfort zone or expertise as the route to engagement.

Chris then asked everyone to consider which role they thought their clients would put them in. The general view was ideator / developer.

This raised the issue that the agency relationship is often not with the most senior team members of the client, who are typically deliverers, while the ideator/clarifier is at a more senior level and the former team act as gatekeeper to the latter. The advice from Linda and Chris was to adapt your language to who you are speaking too. Developers are typically considered risk averse whereas ideators have little fear of risk. As Linda says, use some hyperbolic discounting as a route for getting to the people you need to. Which leads us onto our second P….

… People

Linda invokes the wisdom of Walt Disney with the observation “Leadership is 40-70% environment, it makes change happen.

With this in mind we then explored the 4 types of people there are, and considered how that overlaid with the 4 roles. Everyone was asked to identify what type of leadership role best fitted them and what kind of environment they wanted to create:

VISIONARY – set an inspiring goal

INSPIRATIONAL – challenge thinking

INFLUENTIAL – build networks

TACTICAL – strengthen belief

To this end you need to understand the environment your client operates in, and create that for them, or immerse yourself in it. Chris illustrated this with a reference to the RSC Director, Michael Boyd who managed his actors by creating an environment of consensual behaviour while actually getting exactly what he wanted. Linda noted you can pick up many clues to the environment you are going into by the body language of those in it.

Which lead us to our final P…

… Purpose

Linda exposed the left and right side of the brain fallacy for us all by explaining it is rather more, front, back and right ear:

- Executive thought is at the front

- Imagination, and therefore ideas, come from behind your right ear

- Salience, your gut instinct can be found round the back.

Unlocking them is the trick. Salience switches on Imagination which will unleash ideas for innovation but to switch salience on you need to create a sense of purpose to close down the executive function. Create the purpose and the brain is unlocked. Linda used the example of the 2012 Olympics BBC coverage which had a purpose: record every sport from every location everyday; and watch it on whatever piece of glass you choose. Time and purpose in perfect alignment released the innovation.

Which brings us back to the risk of innovation and the role leadership has to play which Chris described as a loose-tight process at its best.

Armed with our 3 P’s the session came to close with everyone’s notebooks brimming with new ideas and important footnotes to take away for leadership challenges:

- Whether it’s your team or client be confident at all times

- Research thoroughly, listen and engage to know your people, to learn their working patterns, to understand their purpose and unlock the innovation.

About Chris and Linda

About the course:

Innovation Insight – Leading for Innovation in your Organisation

This one day workshop offers a practical guide to leading innovation in organisations.

At the end of the course you will have an insight into the processes, people and systems which underpin successful innovation, and a renewed action plan for developing your own creative ambitions and building innovative capacity in your organisation.

Turning innovative ideas into valuable outcomes requires cooperation from team members and dynamic, flexible leadership. In order to lead innovation in others, you will need to understand your own strengths, both as an innovator and as a leader. You will learn the steps needed to become a leader of innovation. Because innovation is a collaborative process, you will also need to undertake an innovation audit of your own organisation. You will learn how to get the best out of yourself and those around you, and how to recognise and overcome barriers to innovation in your organisation.

If you require something more bespoke, do enquire about our ability to provide custom courses.

Further reading and learning resources recommended by Chris, Linda and attendees:

Start with Why – Simon Sinek

Drive – Daniel H Pink

Clever – Gareth Jones & Rob Goffee

Selling to VITO – Anthony Parinello

If you would like to find out more about the BIMA Client Service Community please contact

Anna Doyle
Posted by Anna Doyle

A member of the BIMA Team since 2012, Anna‘s time is focused on the day-to-day operations of BIMA, building BIMA communities across regions and disciplines and, best of all, spending time with BIMA members to learn more about their business challenges and aspirations. Based in Glasgow, Anna is also responsible for delivering member services and support for BIMA Scotland. Everyday offers a new insight. Previous experience includes 4 years in the BBC Arabic Service newsroom, heading up a pan-BBC World Service change management programme, and working in a diverse range of industries from financial derivatives trading, petroleum engineering and spring manufacturing.

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