Nurturing the innovators within an organization is key to growth.

An article in the December 2008, Harvard Business Review, Finding and Grooming Breakthrough Innovators, by Cohen, Katzenbach and Vlak explores corporate America’s inability to identify and utilize people in the workplace with these vital skills.

The authors sum up the problem, “Most companies do a magnificent job of smothering the creative spark.”


They have studied 25 organizations over the last five years and have found that,“Companies usually develop leaders who are replicate rather that innovative.”

Most large organizations utilize competency based leadership development systems. These systems create cultural understanding of what it means to be a leader within that organization and they provide a structure for appraisal and development systems. They offer consistency to the appraisal process and conformity to the development process. Is this what organizations need?

While there are benefits to competency systems, brilliant innovators rarely fit the mold and are stifled by the system. According to Cohen, Katzenbach and Vlak, only 5-10% of the high potential leaders within an organization have the skills and abilities to become innovators. These people rarely surface within organizations because they have unique skill sets.

Focusing on employee strengths is a solution to the innovation crush. Organizations with a strengths focus support the identification and nurturing of each employee’s strengths. Leaders in these organizations work with employees to determine how to invest in and capitalize on their unique strengths. Employees who are natural innovators are given opportunities to put their strength to work.

Investing in employees’ strengths is a generative solution; employees flourish and both the employees and the organization reap the rewards.