Leading Blog


The Power of Being Directionally Correct

Innovators Spirit

INNOVATION is messy. It’s rarely a straight line from here to there. When doing something new, it’s rare that you know exactly how it is going to turn out. It’s just part of doing something new. It needs to be lead, not managed.

Chuck Swoboda, the retired Chairman and CEO of Cree shares the mindset and beliefs that drive innovation in The Innovator’s Spirit: Discover the Mindset to Pursue the Impossible. Innovation is not a manageable process, but it is based on some beliefs and corresponding behaviors of which, he identifies twelve.

One such belief is that “it’s better to make a decision with what you know and learn from it as opposed to waiting to act.” It’s better to improve along the way rather than waiting until everything is perfect. It’s what Swoboda calls being directionally correct.

What do you do when you realize that “you don’t know what you don’t know”? Think about it for a few minutes. What do you do? What I saw work time and time again is to stop trying to know everything and start doing something. You don’t need to know exactly how it’s going to work out, you only need to be directionally correct.

How do you do that?

1. Pick A Direction

When you start to pursue a new problem, you can’t possibly know how it’s going to turn out. And you don’t need t know—just start heading in a direction. The point is to have the curiosity to want to know and the confidence to try to figure it out. This is how you develop an innovator’s mindset. It starts with the belief that you can find a way to solve a problem no one else has.

2. Take Your Best Idea

To do something better than anyone who came before you, you can’t wait for the perfect answer to come to you. Perfect doesn’t exist. Write down your best ideas and then simply pick one. It really doesn’t matter which one, but you can’t start taking action until you choose.

3. Try It and See What Happens

Part of leading innovation is testing your ideas and incorporating new information as it comes. In other words, you run some experiments. It will quickly become clear if the direction you’re pursuing is the right one or not.

4. Use What You Learned to Adjust and Try Again

No matter what the result is, after each experiment you have more information. This information can be used to inform the next step and the direction becomes a little clearer.

The goal isn’t perfection. It’s finding a better way. It’s excellence. The power of being directionally correct is in knowing you are headed in the right direction without stalling out over, is it right. When Vince Lombardi took over as coach of the Green Bay Packers, he told his team at the first meeting:

Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in just being good.

Swoboda’s twelve beliefs and behaviors put the innovator’s spirit on a solid foundation and is the path to understanding how to lead innovation in your organization. It begins in the mind.

Innovation is more than an invention. It’s something new to be sure, but it also “creates enormous value by addressing an important problem. In other words, inventions are rather common and often collect dust while innovations change the world.” Innovation begins with the belief that “you can find a way to solve a problem no one else could” and staying true to your beliefs.

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