The demands of the quarterly cycle of business push leaders to operate in the here and now of the short term. However, innovation demands being able to take a long-term view. Innovators have to be able to see beyond the current horizon to innovate. We need to have the resilience to act beyond immediate gratification to create new products, services and markets.
Those who remain stuck in actuality do not get the chance to innovate. And those who are fixated in the realm of possibility become dreamers. Effective leaders in a world of perpetual change require the willingness to dance between the short term of actuality and the long term of possibility.
To lead in between the demands of actuality and innovation for possibility requires a mindset that is simultaneously pragmatic and romantic. Steve Jobs is a perfect icon of someone who was both grounded in the here and now of pragmatism and who simultaneously was able to imagine a world beyond the here and now. He is not alone in being both pragmatic and romantic at the same time. Any innovator or entrepreneurial leader is capable of living in the worlds of actuality and possibility. In the 1980’s Jack Welch was exemplary; so too was Andy Grove of Intel as were so many of the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley.
What enabled them to be simultaneously attuned to the here and now of business and to creating new business worlds beyond the here and now? It certainly was not their ability to follow rules of procedure correctly. As Jack Welch always said, business is more than the rules. It is smell, feel and touch. This does not mean he or any of the others abandoned the rules, but they were able to situate the rules in a broader context of a business feel or feel for the business.
Business feel is not something that is usually taught to aspiring senior managers at business schools. On the contrary, they are taught that success in business emerges through adhering to the ostensible rules of the hard sciences. Yet, as Andy Grove once said, when a business gets into serious trouble it is important for leaders to be able to listen to their emotions. Emotions are not just irrational feelings to be dismissed. There are vital warnings and clues that are contained in emotions.
Our first response to danger, for example, is a sense of fear or worry. When something goes wrong or we feel that it is not quite right, we tend to worry. Worry tells us a lot about a situation. It keeps us alert to present dangers and to new opportunities. Good doctors and nurses are good precisely because they learn to listen to their worry. In business, Lou Gerstner once said, “Keep the crisis alive,” in enabling fundamental change in business.
Although it may sound strange to say, our emotions allow us to see possibilities and commit to courses of action. If we are willing to listen to them, they can ground us in the here and now and open up entrepreneurial opportunities. So many great leaders in our world have processed information, not only through the mind, but through emotions. In the world of science Einstein is a perfect example of someone whose innovative thinking emerged out of his power of wonder.
We live in a business world that has all but chocked our capacity for business feel. The price that we pay for this is that we do not see new possibilities and present dangers even when they are staring us in the face. Our challenge today is to develop our business feel. Are you ready to do so?