To encourage innovation, leaders need to stop relying on old ways and become forward-thinkers in an ever-changing world. Below are some actions leaders can take to inspire others to innovate:

1. Follow the 20/80 rule. Leaders need to understand where to innovate. Though most people are familiar with the 80/20 rule, innovation follows the 20/80 rule. It is easier to change twenty percent of an organization eighty percent than to change eighty percent of an organization twenty percent. The trick is to find the top and bottom ten percent and start there.

Growth requires we turn our backs on the middle-way and lean in favor of the unconventional. The middle is dangerous. No amount of serpentine processes can penetrate the essential equilibrium that keeps everything the same.

On the fringes of an organization, where performance reaches beyond standard variance, we find the impulse to try new things precisely because the present condition is intolerable or the opportunity immeasurable. It is only when the firm is compromised that it truly engages its people and enlists them in their own economic survival.

2. Change some of the guard. Leaders should seek out the voices of those who have little stake in tradition–usually the younger, more vibrant individuals. Ask them how to update the old and make the homogenous a little more heterogeneous. Encourage them to push existing boundaries. Create an innovation advisory board–a group that represents the new. While a board of directors keeps things on track, an innovation advisory board deliberately disrupts that track to promote innovative thinking.

3. Leave room for the new. Run experiments to see what works and what doesn’t. Leaders need to be patient with experiments: adjust and tinker with them until they get traction. Actively make available the tools that will stimulate innovation. This requires leaving time and money open. Set aside a pool of funds solely devoted to the development of creative ideas.

4. Just say no. Leaders should have the audacity to turn down clients, customers, and patrons who support the company legacy but not its future. There will always be people who want to give you money to be like you used to be. If you turn their support down, you’ll open up the opportunity for new sectors of growth. Substitute a new program, project, or service for a more traditional option. Establish a second brand or a second track that will attract a new audience.

To learn more about how to lead innovation, check out this podcast interviewI did.

Originally published on Quora.


  • Jeff DeGraff

    Dean of Innovation, Author and Thought Leader

    Jeff DeGraff is an advisor to Fortune 500 companies, a top innovation speaker, a business professor at the Ross School of Business, and a bestselling author. He founded the Innovatrium, an innovation consulting firm focusing on creating an innovation culture, capability, and community. He earned his nickname, the “Dean of Innovation,” while working as an executive for Domino’s Pizza in his youth, where he accelerated Domino’s growth from a regional success story to an international franchise phenomenon. He is also the author of several books on how teams innovate, his most recent being The Innovation Code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict.