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Juan Antonio Ramos-Yzquierdo, Professor of the School of CC. Economics and Business Administration, University of Navarra

Innovating and leading in turbulent times

Sat, 23 Jan 2010 09:20:17 +0000 Published in Expansion

Hunger sharpens ingenuity. Difficult times are the best times to turn ideas into value, because that is what innovation is all about. "But man, don't talk to me about innovating when it's going down! Well, yes, I am talking about innovation, because it is a necessity if we want to survive. Innovation is not a whim, it is a necessity.

Some decisions would be simply innocent were it not for the fact that they have tragic consequences for everyone. Like, for example, the happy idea of cutting budgets for innovation. Cutting state budgets may be a virtue in itself, but the quality of what is cut matters. And innovation for a country, that is, importing what is said to be imported, matters, and it also happens to export, and makes it easier to export, something we are in great need of.

But this is only a symptom of the disease; the real problem we face is much deeper. First of all, we first need to restore values that have fallen into disuse, such as effort, merit and excellence, given that ultimately written request it is people who innovate. And if mediocrity pervades everything, two questions arise: where are the transformative ideas going to come from and what mechanisms do we have to convert these ideas into value, into wealth for organizations and for society as a whole? On the other hand, within companies, it is urgent to train people to innovate. Because innovation is not only a question of researchers, scientists or technologists. We can all innovate.

Paradigm shift

Within the possibilities offered by innovation, excessive importance is given to technological and product innovation, to the point that it has become a cliché to identify innovation with technology or with the invention of new products. There is another innovation subject , organizational innovation, process innovation in organizations, which deserves special attention at this time. It is a matter of improving management, of organizing work more efficiently and effectively, of being more agile, more flexible, but also more human.

The relationship between improving the performance of people and improving the performance of organizations is exponential. And it does not always require the use of technology. In many cases, the problem faced by companies is prior and decisive. It is a cultural problem; it is necessary to overcome resistance and open up to new paradigms, to new ways of organizing and managing.

And of course, this is difficult, because first you have to look inside yourself, and sometimes it is better not to know what you might find, because we would come to the conclusion that we need a drastic rethinking of our lives.

Basically, we are facing a leadership problem, but the traditional approach 'outward' is no longer valid. We live in exciting times, a time of paradigm shift where the approach, first of all, must be 'inward' of people and organizations.

To lead others, first you have to learn to lead yourself, as Viktor Frankl said, and a little later Kenneth Blanchard and some others. Let's see if they are right.