Delegation is a necessary survival skill for senior executives. But when executives delegate their discovery-related innovation tasks, the odds of them finding the surprising insights that often spur transformative-growth businesses decrease dramatically.
This thought crossed my mind as I participated in a review session for an interesting new growth business that a large company was considering. The session seemed innocent enough. Senior executives actively participated in the discussion. They made thoughtful comments and helped the team clarify how it should take the idea forward. Not surprisingly, the team members had more questions than answers, but they left with a clear plan to go learn more about the things they didn’t know.
After the meeting, it was clear that executives would turn back their attention to “normal” activities, and would expect to hear an update from the team in about 90 days.
Sounds reasonable enough, right? But remember: the most powerful businesses don’t result from careful analysis; they emerge, often unexpectedly, from trial-and-error execution (a point made nicely by Roger Martin in his recent blog post). What happens if (when) after the review meeting the team discovers something unexpected that warrants a significant course correction? Strategy can’t always be scheduled.
Even worse, the dissociation of leadership from learning decreases the odds that the team will pay attention to the unexpected insight. Consider a remarkable stream of research that Peter Sims describes in his must-read book, Little Bets.
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Scott D. Anthony is managing director of Innosight Asia-Pacific.