How to coach clients re: Innovation

From the desk of Center for Executive Coaching Founder and Director Andrew Neitlich…

Many business owners and executives have a pressing problem and wonder, “How can my company be more innovative?”

Coaching clients to be more innovative is an in-demand area of coaching. The question is, how can you coach someone so that their company is more innovative?

In my own business coach training program, including in all of our executive coaching certification programs, we teach a model that encourages business owners to always be testing at least five new ideas in what we call a “sandbox” or “testing laboratory.” Ideas can be related to any area that will improve company sales, productivity, strategic positioning, customer service, or cash flow.

Successful tests go into the company’s regular systems, while unsuccessful tests are either tweaked and tried again, or tossed aside. However, as soon as an idea leaves the testing lab/sandbox, the coach pushes the business owners to add a replacement idea to test, so that their company is always dynamic.

Now Peter Sims has come out with a terrific book that validates this process. It is called Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.

Sims gives terrific examples of huge successes that arose from small steps, including: Pixar’s rise from doing small films to creating Toy Story (did you know that Steve Jobs bought Pixar for just $5 million?); Chris Rock’s testing of new jokes in obscure comedy clubs; Procter & Gamble’s low-cost prototyping; and Howard Schultz’s test of a new type of coffee house that led to the creation of Starbucks.

You don’t have to bet the company to be innovative. It can be done systematically, with little bets. I recall that Jim Collins talked about “throwing things against the wall to see what sticks.” That’s another apt metaphor to use when coaching clients on innovation.

I think that every top-tier executive and business coach needs to have a toolkit that helps clients accelerate innovation in their companies. Once you have these tools, you can make a valuable difference to your clients.



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