Innovation is the action or process of imagining a new method, idea, product, etc. It is not invention, which is the act of taking that imagined idea and progressing it into reality. Both are super valuable in todays organisations, but without the former, the later won’t exist.
Many companies are crying out for innovators right now, to help them pivot and reinvent themselves in this fast changing world. Having the innovation factor is a great attribute to stay relevant and ultimately employed when others are struggling.
Yet there is something very significant about innovation, it is seldom if ever the imagining of something utterly, totally, uniquely brand new. Innovation is evolutionary. Ideas emerge through the feed of insights that any day and age offers. Let me give you a clear example. The fitness equipment company Peleton Interactive provide spin cycles alongside an interactive live spin class environment via a big interactive screen on the front of the cycle. None of these elements are in and of themselves new. The innovation has come from bringing them together. The spin exercise bike, the touch screen, subscription based streaming, live spin classes etc. All these things come together to bring their highly successful invention into peoples homes. At the time of writing their share price has tripled since it’s March (covid induced) low. It’s a major success story, yet none of the ingredients were new, it’s the innovative combination that delivered value.
So to be innovative, to have the innovation factor, we do not need to be massively creative (the act of creation, something entirely new). Instead we need to be good observers of the world around his, and have these three attributes:
An attitude that says innovation is critical.
Innovation becomes second nature when there is no choice other than innovating! Imagine a situation where you have no choice but to do something different, you will likely do something different. Uber Technologies are an example of this. They have suffered massively through the lockdown months, as people stopped moving around the planet using their innovative taxi service. With a slow recovery of their original business likely, they have had to pivot and innovate further. So they’ve turned to home delivery; take aways, shopping, you name it, Uber can now pick it up and deliver it for you. Why, because it is critical that they do so.
The more we perceive we have no choice but to pivot, the more innovative we will always be.
A preparedness to invest.
Innovation takes investment. Investment is never without some element of risk. To be innovative, we have to add time, money, effort into the equation. We cannot expect to innovate unless we value it enough to spend; mentally, emotionally and sometimes financially. Innovators cut out time and expend effort in its pursuit. If we want to innovate, we have to do the same.
A willingness to do something different.
If we do the same thing, we will get the same thing. A starting point for innovation is to do something different. If I start to change things, alter them up, mix them up, then I open the door to innovative thinking. I generate the space for the ‘what if’ question. Remember innovation is seldom ground breaking but nearly always incremental. That makes innovating much easier for us to replicate, experiment with and suggest within our organisations.
I often think that many business do everything they can to stop innovation. They like the stable stuff, the routine, the regular. It’s safe after all! But is it really? When the world changes all around us, then we need to innovate, failure to do this could even result in disaster or decay. Take the classic examples of Kodak, turning away from the digital camera, or Blockbusters failing to embrace streaming.