It’s January, and even though the end of the year feels far away, you know that it will be here in no time, and you’ll have to deliver on those revenue and profit numbers you committed to during Strat Plan.

You know that growth in your existing business and cost-savings in your operations will get you partway there, but they won’t get you all the way to those goals (and the fat bonus that goes with them).

You know your business needs to innovate and not just this year but next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and….

You know you need to start now.  You also know that whatever you do has to produce results and become the way your business does business in the future.  But this has been tried before with mixed (or no) results.

Time to put on your Innovation HAT

Innovation is a leadership problem, and the very best leaders, the ones who turn innovation from an organizational problem into a revenue-generating answer, are honest about what’s needed and what’s possible, action-oriented, and mentally and intellectually tough.

In other words, on Day 1, they put their innovation HAT on, and they don’t take it off until innovation is a business capability ingrained in the organization like marketing, finance, and operations.


As a leader, you first need to be honest with yourself.  You know the results you need to deliver and the ones you want to deliver, but are you realistic about what you can deliver?

I once had a CEO ask her innovation team of 3 people to develop a new business from scratch, launch it in 12 months, and deliver $250M revenue in its first year. 

She was not honest with herself and, as a result, did not set realistic goals for her team (which, not surprisingly, was disbanded 12 months later).

I also worked with a CEO who asked his team to develop new sources of revenue from scratch that would generate at least $1 revenue that year.  Several years later, the business has doubled, and much of that growth comes from sources that didn’t exist when the CEO set his original goal.


If you want something different, you need to do something different.

While it’s helpful to spend the first few months engaging in an audit of your existing capabilities and resources, developing an innovation strategy, and designing the supporting structures and processes, it can’t come at the expense of doing innovation. 

The most effective innovation leaders know that talking and, more importantly, listening to customers is a “No regrets” activity.  They understand that no matter the results of the audit, the strategic priorities, or the structure and process design, talking to customers will deliver valuable insights.

They take action to gather the insights that will fuel innovation while they also lay the foundation for a sustainable innovation capability.


It takes 66 days to build a new habit.

It takes about three years to build and solidify an innovation capability.

You need to be tough and resilient during those three years because those years will be filled with some wins and a lot of losses.  You’ll face questions, challenges, and even ridicule.  You will have to lift up, encourage, and advocate for your team despite your concerns and doubts.  You’ll have to celebrate the first $1 of revenue with the same enthusiasm as you celebrate $100M in your existing business.

What’s your Innovation HAT?

Like all great hats, your Innovation HAT can (and should) be embellished with other qualities and flourishes the reflect you, your leadership style, and your vision for the organization.

What should be part of every leader’s innovation HAT?

What unique flourish do you add to yours?