I spoke to a group of more than 60 association CEOs recently and I asked them if they were innovative or opportunistic. As expected, most said they were opportunistic. A few said they were innovative. Then I asked them to define the term "innovative." We soon discovered that they, too, were opportunistic.
Of course, it all depends on how you think about innovation.
Being innovative is creating a new need or producing something that is better than anything else currently out there.
Opportunistic is being able to rapidly and effectively identify and exploit opportunities. It means being able to leap frog over your competitors to take advantage of a situation.
There are two factors that determine whether your organization is innovative, opportunistic, or something else -- your approach and your ability to execute.
You are innovative (the top right quadrant) only if you have a proactive approach (that is, you anticipate need) and you have a strong ability to execute.
If you have a proactive approach but a poor ability to execute, then you are an academic organization. You focus on ideas, and usually have great ones because you are not hindered by the applicability of those ideas. Consider a research institute or think tank.
If you are reactive and still have a strong ability to execute, then you are opportunistic. You are not anticipating need, but once you have identified an opportunity, you are able to exploit and leverage it.
If you are reactive and have a low ability to execute, you are merely surviving. This is a dangerous place to be because you are reacting to the environment around you and you have trouble implementing new initiatives and ideas.
We often associate taking risk and embracing failure as components of being innovative. However, both are components of being innovative and opportunistic. You can be opportunistic and still take risk. You can be opportunistic and still fail. The main difference is your approach. Are you proactive in determining solutions or do you take what the environment gives you?
It doesn't matter where you fall on the chart, it only matters that you know where you want to be so you can determine how to best get there.
If you want to become more proactive, there are a few things you can do, but the most important is to just do it.
Start to make time in your schedule to think about the future. The future of your organization. The future of your industry. The future of your customers. The future of your employees. The future of your business partners.
Great leaders take time to reflect on what is going to happen next. They try to anticipate what will happen in six months or 12 months. They block off their calendars. They surround themselves with the right people. They create the right environment. They ask questions like, "What do we know?" and "What do we need to know?"
In order to be innovative, you need to be constantly looking forward, always anticipating the next curve and what's coming ahead. As the great Wayne Gretzky once said, "I go where the puck is going, not where it has been."
Do you know where your puck is going?
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