Yes, Innovation is extremely difficult. That’s why I love it actually. My personal goal is to spark innovation by making it less complex so you, your colleagues and/or clients will be able to innovate yourself.
As blogger on innovation I have written more than 200 posts. I reread them to identify15 essential innovation messages. Being Dutch makes me kind of outspoken and bold. Please use them to put innovation on the agenda. Feel free to share them, of course.
“Operational Excellence generates your profits today. Innovation excellence will generate your profits tomorrow.” – Operational excellence generates your profits of today. That’s clear to all of us. But what will bring you the profits of tomorrow? Innovation will, in the form of new products, new services, new business models or new customer experiences. The challenge for so many companies is to connect operational excellence with innovation excellence on time.
“If there’s no urgency, innovation is considered as playtime.” – Most people in your organisation focus on the business of today. As, innovation will only pay off tomorrow. A lot of companies consider innovation as ‘nice to have’, although they will hesitate to said this out loud. it’s considered by many executives as playtime, as long as there’s no urgency. That’s why in cost cutting programmes innovation will be one of the first activities to be killed.
“Innovators need the patience of a hunter to wait for a shot that you’re sure you can make” – So what do you do as innovator, while the rest of your company focusses on the business of today? Nobody is in for doing things differently or doing different things as long as the business results are booming. It sounds frustrating, but you make a much better chance as innovator, when your innovations are really needed by top management to keep the company on it’s path for growth. Why should I say yes to innovations with a high risk as long as low-risk line/brand extensions will still do the job? I won’t. So pick the right moment: wait for a shot that you’re sure you can make to get your innovations internally accepted by top management.
“Managers say yes to innovation only if doing nothing is a bigger risk.” – The chance that a front-end innovation project actually becomes a success on the market is one out of seven. Why should a top manager say yes to innovations with a high risk as long as low-risk line/brand extensions will still do the job? He or she won’t. No, most managers say yes to innovation if doing nothing is a bigger risk.
“Most Managers behave like dogs. They bark at what they do not know.” – Or should I say “Most people….”? How do you behave yourself when someone reaches out to you to tell a great new idea? Do you really listen? Do you ask questions to understand what it’s really about? Do you postpone your own judgement? No. Most of us don’t. Something new never fits in our known patterns and routines. When dogs see something they don’t know the get frightened and start to bark. We humans are so alike :-).
“Organisations frustrate their most innovative employees.” – Organisations are rules by best practices, procedures and regulations, which is completely understandable as they want to be the best in class in their current product-market combinations. As innovator you are continuously tweaking present offerings and coming up with completely new concepts. The unfortunate thing is that they hardly ever fit present best practices, procedures and regulations. Sometimes you get the impression that everybody within the company tries to stop you, instead of giving you a helping hand. Companies really know hot to frustrate their most innovative employees.
“A manager want to control innovation and that’s where it ends. A leader leads innovation and that’s where it starts.” – Managing innovation in a controlling way will never work, because per definition real innovation is a high risk venture with many uncertainties. If you manage real innovations like ‘a normal project’, it will never work. Getting an idea to the market takes a long time and the process is full of iterations. Trying to control it, in a conventional PRINCE-like structure will kill it for sure.
“Real innovative leaders give both focus and freedom.” – Leading innovation by giving both focus and freedom works much better. As leader make sure that your teams focus on the right strategic priorities and know what you expect from them. On the other hand, to be effective, you must give them freedom. Freedom to do it in an unorthodox way, with unorthodox partners, which keeps the passion of your innovators high.
‘The problem of brainstorms is the inability of people to let go of the old ideas.” – When you brainstorm unprepared with the same group of colleagues, hardly anything new will appear. And you’d think not getting any new ideas would be the problem. But you’d be wrong. The problem is getting rid of the old ideas first. Once you’ve got the old ideas out of your mind, new ones come automatically! Key to breaking old thought patterns is acknowledging that they are outdated and keep you from the progress you really desire. You won’t convince yourself of this by staying behind your desk. You have to go out there to challenge your old insights.
“When you need a great idea: STOP thinking and go on a holiday.” – Now why do you get your best ideas off work? Experts state that Gamma waves in our brain get ideas flowing. “Gamma waves start in the right neo-cortex, the part of the brain that understands the unconscious, metaphors, jokes and dreams. Scans have shown that gamma activity signifies new connections between neurons, the formation of new pathways in the brain. The best state to get this going is to generate Alpha brain waves, the energy level that happens when you feel relaxed and open. And that’s why when you play, feel relaxed, or are doing something other than working on ‘the problem’, you get your best idea”. So if you really need a great idea: STOP thinking and go on a holiday. It’s one of my most productive periods in a year.
“The best innovators are need seekers.” – Need Seekers, such as Apple and Procter & Gamble, make a point of engaging customers directly to generate new ideas. They develop new products and services based on superior end-user understanding. Studies confirms that following a Need Seekers strategy offers the greatest potential for superior performance in the long term. Need seeking is essential, because a good innovation is a simple solution to a relevant customer need.
“You can invent alone, but you can’t innovate alone.” – How many people do you need in your organization to get a new concept from idea to market launch? Right. A lot of people. You can come up with an idea on your own. but you need a lotto colleagues to develop it, to produce it, to do the logistics, to do the sales and of course do the invoicing for it. So connect your colleagues in your innovation project from the start. We they are co-creators they will be the strongest supporters.
“Think outside the box and present your idea inside the box otherwise nothing happens.” – Of course you are expected to break patterns. And originality helps. But when you present your idea it is wise to keep in mind that the rest of the organization is still as conservative as ever. Your senior management might praise you for your creativity. But, will they buy the idea and give you the resources to develop it after seeing a movie, a mock up or a flash mob? I have my doubts. Don’t bring them ideas, bring them business and growth potential!
“Starting innovation is like a child starting to walk. Learn to Love the struggle.” – When your organisation is starting innovation, see it as a journey to learn how to innovate. Your company won’t change overnight. Give people time to get a more innovative mindset by stimulating them to start exploring and experimenting. Innovation is difficult to master, even for experienced innovators.
“Cutting costs innovation is like giving your children less food.” – Most people in your organisation focus on the business of today. As, innovation will only pay off tomorrow. A lot of companies consider innovation as ‘nice to have’. That’s why in cost cutting programmes innovation will be one of the first activities to be killed. Unfortunately less efforts in innovation correlates with it’s output.
ps. Please share your favourite quotes on innovation in a comment :-).
picture credits: flickr.com – creative commons. Thanks you: Suncop8ted, Christopher Lance, Dermot O Halloran, Tom Conger, remi DU, David, Wiedz, Mobile Engineers, Hilde Sjkolberg, Gem66, Garett LeSage, Petras Gagilas, Adam Swank, Sarah G, Thomas Hawk for all your wonderful pictures.
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Gijs van Wulfen helps organizations to structure the chaotic start of innovation as author, speaker, and facilitator. He is the founder of the FORTH innovation method and author of the innovation bestseller The Innovation Expedition. He was chosen by LinkedIn as one of their first 150 Influencers. Are you looking for an inspiring innovation speaker? Check out the movies and great reviews at gijsvanwulfen.com. Follow Gijs @gijsvanwulfen