The CEO as Gardener

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

Strategy&Business reviews Loonshots by Safi Bahcall which they rate as one of the top business innovation books of 2019. Loonshots proposes that an Imperial type leadership approach is not ideal for promoting innovation success. It prevents people from speaking up and questioning decisions. The success of the idea becomes too entangled with the ego of the Emperor. Better that the CEO or Leader approaches innovation as a Gardener who creates a healthy fertile space for ideas to grow.


"Finally, companies need to watch out for the “Moses trap,” when early success makes a company’s leader supremely powerful and convinced of his or her own genius. In evaluating loonshots, Bahcall argues, companies need to focus on process rather than outcome. They also must ensure that they have a rigorous system for evaluating ideas and making decisions, one that allows them to be comfortable with failure as long as the process was the correct one. Having a leader who’s seen as a visionary creator makes it harder to do this, because it’s difficult to challenge a Moses. Steve Jobs’s greatest successes at Apple, in fact, came after he failed multiple times, and he became less of a Moses and more of a gardener (even if he was a really tough, obsessive gardener). "

Business books Best Business Books 2019 November 5, 2019 / Winter 2019 / Issue 97

The message contained in Loonshots is applicable to wider society. Innovation can occur anywhere, at work, in schools, in higher education, in any area of Government service. It will not occur in these areas if people live in fear of the consequences of failure. If displeasing or disagreeing with the 'Emperor' carries too high of a risk. The internal innovation environment can be a unique micro-climate, or a reflection of wider society. If you find yourself in a leadership position in a wider society that does not promote risk taking and adheres to the Imperial style described in Loonshots it may still be possible to fulfill the role of Gardner. Each of us can chose to try and make a difference.

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