Innovation Is Social
These quotes from John Hagel’s article are important because they reinforce the notion that innovation is a social activity. While many people give Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the modern – day equivalent, Dean Kamen, credit for being lone inventors, the fact is that the lone inventor myth is just that — a myth. All these gentlemen had labs full of people who shared their passion for creative pursuits. Innovation requires collaboration, either publicly or privately, and is realized as an outcome of three social activities.
1. Social Inputs
- From the very beginning when an organization is seeking to identify key insights to base an innovation strategy or project on, organizations often use ethnographic research, focus groups, or other very social methods to get at the insights. Great innovators also make connections to other industries and other disciplines to help create the great in sights that inspire great solutions.
2. Social Evolution
- We usually have innovation teams in organizations, not sole inventors, and so the activity of transforming the seeds of useful invention into a solution valued above every existing alternative is very social. It takes a village of passionate villagers to transform an idea into an innovation in the marketplace. Great innovators make connections inside the organization to the people who can ask the right questions, uncover the most important weaknesses, help solve the most difficult challenges, and help break down internal barriers within the organization — all in support of creating a better solution.
3. Social Execution
- The same customer group that you may have spent time with, seeking to understand, now requires education to show them that they really need the solution that all of their actions and behaviors indicated they needed at the beginning of the process. This social execution includes social outputs like trials, beta programs, trade show booths, and more. Great innovators have the patience to allow a new market space to mature, and they know how to grow the demand while also identifying the key shortcomings with customers who are holding the solution back from mass acceptance.
When it comes to insights, these three activities are not completely discrete. Insights do not expose themselves only in the social inputs phase, but can also expose themselves in other phases — if you’re paying attention. Flickr famously started out as a company producing a video game in the social inputs phase, but was astute enough during the social execution phase to recognize that the most used feature was one that allowed people to share photos. Recognizing that there was an unmet market need amongst customers for easy sharing of photos, Flickr reoriented its market solution from video game to photo sharing site and reaped millions of dollars in the process when they ultimately sold their site to Yahoo!. Ultimately, action is more important than intent, and so as an innovator you must always be listening and watching to see what people do and not just what they say. Build your solution on the wrong insight and nobody will be beating a path to your door.
Bringing It All Together
If your organization is struggling to sustain its innovation efforts, then I hope you will do the following things.
- Find the purpose and passion that everyone can rally around.
- Create the flexibility necessary to deal with the constant change that a focus on innovation requires for both customers and the organization.
- Make innovation the social activity it truly must be for you to become successful.
If your organization has lost the courage to move innovation to its center and has gotten stuck in a project-focused, reactive innovation approach, then now is your chance to regain the higher ground and to refocus, not on having an innovation success but on building an innovation capability. Are you up to the challenge?
You can read ahead by getting the book or downloading the sample chapter, or by checking out the other parts here:
- Making Innovation Sustainable – Part 1 of 4
- Making Innovation Sustainable – Part 2 of 4
- Making Innovation Sustainable – Part 3 of 4
- Managing Innovation is about Managing Change
Braden Kelley is a Social Business Architect and the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden is also a popular innovation speaker and trainer, and advises companies on embedding innovation across the organization and how to attract and engage customers, partners, and employees.