Innovation gets defined so many ways that it can be confusing. While there is a repeatable framework for creating new value, the iterative nature of front end discovery work can perplex those who believe that work should be linear.
A sincere innovation effort needs time to explore the field, get to know all the people for whom solutions will be created in surprising ways, define the findings into actionable, new insights, generate 1000s of ideas to solve the issues in novel, own-able ways, access what was created and reframe it, go back and fill in any holes with more ideation, then everything is still subject to change based on consumer feedback.
These gyrations are more like playing chutes and ladders than following a rigid stage-gate method of product development.
Often, you realize you have to go back to steps to flesh out an opportunity territory. Other times, once you reframe a question you must go deeper, so you have to challenge and inspire the thinking of an organization by creating assignments that push its organization boundaries.
As you are categorizing the themes generated from a series of ideation sprints, you realize that a particular organization needs partners in other channels and with different technology and marketing expertise, so a study arises mid-point in this creative process. Maybe you realize that you need more context around a subject, so both a benchmarking study and some primary market research assignments are made.
Just when you assume you are moving to the next phase of the framework, there is a yearning to know more, push harder, and seek the breakthrough opportunity by being relentlessly curious and open to exploration. At such points in a project lifecycle, you learn which team members are up to the challenge and which ones cannot work without a paint-by-numbers style of management that is counter-productive in this field.
You can seek to predict the outcome, apply metrics, and try to control the framework as forcibly as you can, but there’s no need. The process, if followed, always creates new value and competitive advantage. The trick is having the courage to follow the path as it is unfolding.
By design, this is new territory for the organization, and therefore, no map exists.
Innovation is, then, a journey of discovery. Leaders get it, but managers rarely understand, as the journey cannot be managed, only undertaken with reverence, care, planning, a sense of wonder, and a driving faith that when the trek is complete, valuable learning will imbue the organization with new, real possibilities and that a form of gold will be discovered. This gold may cause a strong reaction as it often asks for a brand or product line to be transformed so it can be unearthed.
Change is hard, but dying on the vine for an unwillingness to change is even harder.
Innovation is no different that the hero’s journey in every myth across the globe. The heroes must venture outside of their known world, face some unforeseen pitfalls with creative cunning, and then bring the boon back to their community with a good story.
image credit: amnh.org
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Michael Graber is the co-founder and managing partner at Southern Growth Studio, a Memphis, Tennessee-based firm that specializes in growth strategy and innovation. A published poet and musician, Graber is the creative force that complements the analytical side of the house. He speaks and publishes frequently on best practices in design thinking, business strategy, and innovation and earned an MFA from the University of Memphis.