I recently read an article “Ted Talks are all Lying to You” wherein the author was opining that our standard literature around creativity and innovation in the business domain is complete rubbish. The article is an interesting read, but at the end of the day, creativity is not what most people in business do – they do opportunity. Opportunity is all about taking the stuff that we already know, do and have, and finding ways to get paid more for it.
Innovation and Opportunity
Innovation in business often comes from opportunity. As we are “doing opportunity” we see a way to get paid, that we currently don’t do, exactly. A client has a need that we can’t fill. A client has an interesting but awkward use for an existing product that leads us to make a new product more attenuated to that use. We see an opportunity to reduce cost (increase profitability) by radically simplifying a production process.
Innovation is risky. Innovation is never a sure thing. So business that wants to innovate, has to be able to assess risk effectively. Innovation is change. So business that wants to innovate has to be capable of executing change effectively. Taking risks and executing change require strong leadership. When our ideas don’t produce the benefits we hoped, our investment becomes expense.
Innovation and Leadership
Innovation requires two leadership roles to be empowered: Visionary and Champion. The visionary is the leader who can see the benefit of the innovation, of the change, and assess the risks and define the strategy to get the benefits. The champion is the soldier who is hired to make the change happen. He will slay dragons and foe men – siege the castle if necessary – to make the change happen. The champion is sold out to the goal of making the change happen. Without a visionary and a champion, innovation will not create the impact necessary to “move the needle”.
Innovation and the Laboratory Worldview
Innovation requires a “laboratory” mindset. Let’s put on our lab coat, and try a new idea. Let’s evaluate how that new idea worked. Let’s see how well we understand this new idea, and if the potential reward might be worth the risk. The laboratory mindset requires and allows us to “suspend our disbelief” so that we can give a new idea a chance to survive on its own merit. We explore what else can change to make this idea work. We explore what else can now change as a result of adopting this idea. The laboratory mindset helps us fund the experiment before we commit to it and allows us the freedom to take risks, without “betting the farm”.
Innovation and Change
Innovation often does not start out because we “wanted” to revolutionize the way we do something. Innovation often starts out seeking incremental improvement. However, in the process of analyzing our opportunities for change we catch a glimpse of a grander idea. Sometimes it feels almost accidental. We were expanding the coal mine when we suddenly found silver. Other times its a logical progression, we simply follow the logical implications of our small change idea, and a grander change is revealed.
If you want to be innovative, you have to be opportunistic, deal with the problems, create the right leadership culture, project a laboratory worldview and most of all you must want things to change.