The Tension of Innovation—You need BOTH Hard AND Soft Skills


Innovation requires that you become cohabitationally comfortable with certain core tensions—tensions between popular, “soft” concepts like collaboration, experimentation, freedom to fail, freedom from fear, and decentralized leadership and then less popular, “hard” culture-building leadership behaviors.

This is precisely what one of my former Harvard Business School professors, Gary Pisano, argues in his latest Harvard Business Review article, “The Hard Truth about Innovation” (Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 2019).

While innovation can be done by most leaders and organizations, Prof. Pisano argues that it actually requires 1) tolerance for failure and intolerance for incompetence, 2) willingness to experiment while also being highly disciplined, 3) psychological safety with simultaneous brutal candor, 4) group collaboration as well as individual accountability, and 5) flat leadership but also strong leadership.

1. Why do you think the “hard” skills are so hard?
2. Do you have a story of how your team has mastered one of these tensions?
3. Do you have a story of how one of these tensions has messed with your team?
4. How can you try to introduce even one of these hard-soft tensions into your team?


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