Skip to main content
leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Lots of leaders say they want their employees to "think outside the box" and be creative and innovative. But many organizations don't take the steps needed to make that happen. Companies need to, though, since fostering a culture of innovation produces exponential growth that every business must seek.

Here are some key skills that will produce growth:

Be a discovery-driven leader

Those who drive innovation within their organizations spend about four months a year in discovery. They focus their efforts on the planning, analysis and execution of the organization's strategic objectives – and are extremely detailed and self-disciplined.

As Hal Gregersen, a professor of leadership and innovation at France-based graduate business school Insead, often asks: "What if you spent a third of your work week paying attention to new possibilities? What if you took an intellectual step back to uncover what growth opportunities you might find? What would you do next?"

Ask the right questions

Critical to any opportunity for discovery or innovation, asking the right questions is essential. Ask "why not?" Or "what if?" Brainstorm the questions and push yourself. Don't be limited to one or two – explore by asking as many questions as possible.

Get out of your office

Take the time to observe customers, services and products. Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley not only visited his customers in various countries but also set time aside to speak with consumers in those places.

Examine your network

Who do you speak to? How often do you spend time outside the office to gain valuable insights? To drive any innovation, diversity is required. Doing the same thing every day in the office means you won't ever hear what others outside your industry are saying about the future. To network effectively, you need to open yourself up to discussions happening all around you and really listen to what people are saying.

Pay attention to new technologies

Go outside your business, looking at the technologies on the horizon. They may be a source of innovation. They will definitely influence your work tomorrow.

Experiment and recreate

Try out new things, take apart products, processes and ideas, and recreate them. Test-drive rapidly and cheaply. The world is changing and ideas are being generated globally. Analyzing and getting to 100 per cent before every launch is not an acceptable methodology – it dooms you from the start.

Free associate

Take ideas and products and put them together in ways that you wouldn't necessarily think possible to create something different. If you train your brain to carry these thoughts and associate them, it will drive innovation to within your grasp.

Look outside your industry

There are new threats and opportunities to your business that are not from current competitors. Most industries will be disrupted by technologies on the horizon, or those already available. You are either a disruptor or you are being disrupted. You should disrupt the current way of doing business and reap the benefits of exponential growth.

Leon Goren (@LeonGoren) is president and chief executive officer of Presidents of Enterprising Organizations, a leadership training organization.