“Innovation” is a term frequently thrown around in corporate board rooms and company newsletters, but there’s very little agreement about what innovation really means. Over the years, innovation can be and has been interpreted in many conflicting ways, even by members of the same team. For the most part, I think the conversation over the meaning of innovation is healthy one – as long as it leads to a productive result.
However, unclear definitions become a problem when stakeholders perpetuate misconceptions about the innovation process. When that happens, businesses lose out on the real return that innovation projects could bring to the table.
Startups often lead innovation drives because they are built to disrupt. It’s usually much more challenging to implement innovation in a corporate environment where “change” is treated like a bad word.
What I hope is that business leaders at large enterprises can set aside their risk aversion long enough to recognize the critical role innovation can play in assuring business continuity. Innovation can not only open up new lines of business, it can also simultaneously strengthen the business for excellence in customer experience. Embracing innovation in the right way can take the business to the next level and future-proof it against unpredictable market volatility.
But first, businesses must recognize and move past their unfounded assumptions.
John F. Kennedy once said:
“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
That’s definitely the case here. Too many organizations have bought into the myth that monetization of new ideas is too risky and leads to waste. While it’s true that some businesses have lost their investments on inadequately designed, poorly executed or simply badly timed innovation projects, the wisest leaders always learn from the mistakes of others.
Here are five common misconceptions about corporation innovation that could be holding you back from recognizing new revenue and taking off in an original direction.
Myth 1: Only specific people with specific creative talents can innovate.
Many companies believe that if they want to be innovative they need hire “creative” people. The truth is, you don’t need a bunch of new people that fit a particular mold to be innovative. Being innovative starts with changing your culture to be more open and accepting of new ideas. This means encouraging your current staff to share their own ideas for how to better improve solutions for your customers. Most organizations claim to be open to suggestions, but in reality, very few take action on the feedback they get.
Empower your employees to call out opportunities to create a better way to do business. Even small investments to improve the company’s innovative culture can have a profound impact. Change/improvement is far easier when it is broken down into smaller incremental units as opposed to waiting, planning, hoping and wishing for a monumental change.
“People want guidance, not rhetoric; they need to know what the plan of action is and how it will be implemented. They want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it.” –Howard Schultz, Founder of Starbucks
Most improvements take place as a result of recognizing flaws or opportunities to make a process better dynamically, as you are doing it internally. Any step, even a small, seemingly insignificant improvement to a process can make a valuable impact.
We understand that while an innovations department is a good start, it takes an entire culture shift to make innovation a reality.
Myth 2: Innovation is about new technology.
Technology will always change, but don’t get lost in it. These investments should not be the driver of the business. The end goal of any new technology should be to enhance the human connection and the customer experience. If you are always leading with the latest, greatest technology, it’s easy to forget the whole reason why the business exists in the first place: to serve the customer.
“Everybody has accepted by now that change is unavoidable. But that still implies that change is like death and taxes — it should be postponed as long as possible and no change would be vastly preferable. But in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm.” — Peter Drucker, Best-Selling Author
Technology should help you do business more effectively in the way consumers want to do business. It cannot solve every problem. Let technology be there for you when you need it, but develop new ways of doing business by soliciting feedback from users and leverage technology as a tactic, not the solution.
Myth 3: Innovation requires a lot of brainstorming.
Innovation is not just about ideas; it’s about working through steps to see an innovation breakthrough. It is so much more than the continuous creation of random ideas.
Innovation is about understanding the process. Ideas can come from brainstorming, but some of the best ideas come from unexpected places, like competitors, adaptations of outdated conceptions, or applications from other industries. No matter how an idea enters the innovation process, it will not create a breakthrough without thorough development and market execution planning. A reliable innovation process is the most valuable part of the innovation production machine.
This process starts by developing milestones and keeping them in clear view of the project. At the same time, make sure you have ready access to metrics. You’ll need to provide executives and other key stakeholders with on-demand status updates that are unequivocal, even as your team rolls with the twists and turns that the project will inevitably take. Support your team so they can work in a fluid, but efficient manner to make this happen.
While a good idea may come out of a working session, that is a long way from the innovation that will go to market with a full execution and monetization plan.
Myth 4: Innovation is about being random and spontaneous.
What I typically see when innovation stumbles is that the process breaks down at the level of implementation. This is the primary reason why many excellent ideas don’t survive through to monetization. While many team members think that innovation requires a certain level of seemingly random and spontaneous actions, the truth is quite the opposite. Successful innovation is purposeful and process-driven.
Develop a map to reach the ideal destination and see which directions make the most sense to travel down. Be absolutely clear on which resources you have at your disposal and warning signals of a project going off track. Only then can you move the best qualified players into position.
Again, I’m not saying good ideas don’t benefit from a certain level of flexibility and spontaneity, but a reliable, repeatable process sets the stage for flawless implementation of the best innovations.
Myth 5: You must choose either bottom-up or top-down innovation.
The truth is, it isn’t an either-or decision. It takes a combination of both to be successful in monetizing innovation. You need a corporate culture that promotes employee input and rewards idea creation, as well as acceptance from senior decision-makers to put it into action.
Make sure you maintain consistency and hold people to their commitments in order to maintain momentum. Equally important is the need to build energy inside your team. Nothing does that better than success. Create a healthy, competitive environment where each member is aggressively driving the agenda for the betterment of the team.
Employees will need to be empowered to come up with the ideas and be a part of the teams that make an innovation breakthrough a reality. Meanwhile, executive team members will need to be open to new profitable ideas and supply necessary resources to optimize success.
Innovation in a corporate environment requires buy-in from everyone, which is why it requires a culture shift.
And remember, don’t let these myths prevent you from traveling down roads less traveled, because that is how you gain a true competitive edge. Considering today’s business climate and speed of change, it can be dangerous to put innovation on the back burner. A lack of understanding of the long-term benefits of innovation and the optimal innovation process can turn a prospering business into a thing of the past.