Does Your Company Have Innovation Courage?


Jeff Besoz vs Elon Musk. Generated by Canva AI

What is the definition of innovation courage? It is, in essence, the ability to take risks and pursue new ideas in the face of uncertainty, fear, and potential failure. Innovation is essential for any organization to grow and remain competitive, but taking that very first step into the unknown can be scary.

There are lots of examples face of obstacles courageous leaders who took risks and innovated in the and succeeded. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is one such example. Despite numerous setbacks and hurdles, Musk persisted in his pursuit of a sustainable future through electric vehicles and space exploration. Tesla has become one of the most valuable car companies as a result of his courage and invest in innovation.

So, what kind of courage does a leader need to overcome the fear of failure and begin investing in innovation? According to the McKinsey article “Fear Factor: Overcoming Human Barriers to Innovation,” three different types of courage are necessary for innovation: creative, operational, and personal.

The willingness to challenge the status quo and pursue new ideas is called creative courage. Leaders with creative courage are not afraid to challenge assumptions and take risks in order to pursue innovative solutions. This kind of courage is what pushes innovation forward and creates new opportunities for growth.

The ability to implement and execute on new ideas is referred to as operational courage. It includes taking calculated risks and making difficult decisions in order to achieve success.

Personal courage is the ability to overcome the personal and emotional difficulties that come with pursuing innovation. This type of courage requires the ability to deal with the stress, uncertainty, and potential failure that comes with taking risks.

Aside from these three types of courage, I believe one of the most important is the courage to let go of the past. Many businesses have “cash cows,” or tried-and-true products or services that generate the majority of their revenue. But what happens when those cash cows begin to deteriorate or become obsolete?

This is where the ability to let go comes into play. Recognizing that what once worked may no longer work and pivoting your business model to find new revenue streams, or “new calves,” takes real guts. However, it is critical for any company that wishes to remain competitive in today’s rapidly changing market.

Let’s look at some companies that had the fortitude to let go of their past and embrace new business models. One of the most well-known examples is Kodak, which was once known for dominating the film and camera markets. When digital cameras became available, however, Kodak was slow to adapt, clinging to its cash cow of film products. As a result, the company fell behind and declared bankruptcy in 2012.

Amazon, on the other hand, is a different story. When it first began, the company was an online bookstore. But Jeff Bezos had the fortitude to abandon that narrow focus and embrace a much broader vision. Amazon now sells everything from groceries to electronics, and its Prime membership service has grown into a significant revenue generator.

It takes a lot of guts to let go of the past and embrace the future, especially when it comes to long-running business models and revenue streams. Clinging to these “cash cows” can, however, stifle innovation and prevent businesses from exploring new opportunities.

One approach is to consider finding new “calves” to nurture and grow. This entails investigating new business models, revenue streams, and products that have the potential to become the next big thing for your company. To do so, however, you must be willing to take risks and abandon what has previously worked.

Consider Netflix as an example. The company began as a DVD-by-mail rental service, which was enormously successful. However, as technology and consumer behavior changed, they realized they needed to adapt. They took a risk by heavily investing in online streaming and original content, despite the fact that it meant departing from their original business model. Today, Netflix is one of the world’s largest streaming services, and it continues to innovate and expand.

Amazon is another example. The company began as an online bookstore but quickly realized that in order to remain relevant, they needed to diversify. They took a risk by investing in new products and services like Amazon Web Services and the Kindle e-reader, both of which were initially criticized as being unrelated to their core business. However, these new “calves” proved to be huge successes, helping Amazon establish itself as a leader in a variety of industries.

So, how can leaders foster this kind of bravery in their organizations?

According to the HBR article “To Foster Innovation, Cultivate a Culture of Intellectual Bravery,” creating a safe space for employees to take risks and experiment is a critical factor. Leaders should encourage their teams to question assumptions and pursue novel solutions, even if they do not appear to be feasible at first.

Another important factor is recognizing and rewarding courage in innovation. Leaders should publicly recognize and reward employees who take risks and pursue novel ideas, even if they do not always succeed. This will foster an environment in which innovation is valued and encouraged rather than punished.

As we discussed earlier in the podcast, another strategy is to foster a culture of intellectual bravery. This includes encouraging employees to share new ideas and rewarding those who take chances.

It is one thing to have courage, but courage without attention and dedication will not work!

One important reason why businesses may struggle to be innovative is a lack of resources or support, as well as a scarcity of management’s attention, energy, and mental bandwidth, because their managers are overburdened with day-to-day responsibilities. They are so focused on short-term goals that they don’t have time to consider new ideas or provide their employees with the attention, energy, and resources they require to innovate.

If a company wants to be innovative, it must prioritize it and provide its employees with the resources they require. This entails assembling an innovative team, providing opportunities for training and development, and establishing processes that encourage trying new things and learning from them.

Creating a separate innovation unit within the company is a good strategy for doing so. This unit may be tasked with investigating new business models, testing new products or services, and creating new revenue streams. By detaching this unit from the company’s day-to-day operations, it can be given the space and resources it requires to innovate without fear of disrupting existing cash cows.

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The Innovation Factory by Soheil Abbasi

Soheil is an experienced innovation director with 12+ years of startup acceleration & open innovation, chief Innovation officer at The Innovation Factory.