Without innovative ideas, a company stagnates and may even cease to exist. In other words, innovate or die.
But innovation isn’t just about turning on your right brain, brainstorming, and generating a few “aha” moments. It’s more than just dreaming up new ideas. Innovation is the "act of introducing something new” – with an emphasis on something new.
Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has a little vignette in his book The Innovator's Dilemma about how people were trying to fly in the Middle Ages by fabricating wings, strapping them onto their arms, jumping and flapping real hard. For centuries subsequent innovators framed the problem as: The guys who died just didn't flap hard enough. Yet it still never worked. Once they understood that there were some basic laws of nature that they needed to account for, once Bernoulli understood fluid mechanics well enough to articulate his principle, then there was a law of nature we could actually harness.
A lot of good managers during these challenging times are flapping their wings. They are working very hard to fight some fundamental changes in the way we will do business when they should be harnessing the changes and identifying the opportunities.
What’s standing in their way? Until this century, businesses executed change at a controlled pace. Market strategies were developed years in advance and product roadmaps extended years into the future. Today, unprecedented changes in markets, technology, economies, and consumers' taste is continuous, complex, chaotic, and accelerating. This rapid change has created a new set of challenges – very quickly.
Innovation demands creativity, the ability to develop new ideas. But despite the entire emphasis about being more creative, every new idea isn't innovative. And many life-altering ideas never see the light of day. Why?
Because the only way creative ideas become reality is by taking risks. “The willingness to take risks is not always easy,” according to Jacqueline Byrd, the brain behind Creatrix,“ especially when forced to push an idea against opposition and adversity. Innovation requires a willingness to accept criticism, to withstand frustration, and to make mistakes. In other words, innovation means that a person or organization is willing to push his or her ideas forward at some potential risk to his or her own security, career, reputation, or self-esteem.
Strategically, that’s a fundamental and essential question for every organization and individual. In future posts, I’ll be writing more about how you and/or your organization can assess this innovative capacity, how to determine how much is enough, how to identify the 7 drivers of creativity and risk-taking, and 9 personality traits that shape innovation.