Why All The Innovation Fuss About Ideas. Innovation Requires Much More Than That

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While some make no distinction between good ideas and innovation, there are several pit stops in an entrepreneurship journey.

Global and local markets are becoming highly saturated and volatile. This increased competition and changes in consumer behavior have pushed businesses to innovate within their realm. Yet, when talking about finding ways to make a difference, most companies believe that the answer to innovation lies in brainstorming more ideas.

According to the Massachusetts Institute Technology experts, innovation can be defined as the “process of taking an idea from inception impact.” While simplistic, this definition truly captures the gist of innovation and helps differentiate between creativity and innovation. From entrepreneurs and change-makers to businessmen and executives, professionals across different sectors have concluded that having an “idea,” no matter how brilliant, is not a marker for success. Instead, seeing fruitful results is more about implementing, evolving, and adapting an idea.

Let’s understand these differences by checking five innovation principles and using practical examples.

1. Innovation Is About Impacting Reality

Impacting Reality — Image from freepik

Thomas Edison captured the essence of innovation when he said,

“I find out what the world needs, and then I proceed to invent it.” 

Innovation that does not provide marketable solutions to existing problems can never be successful.

CB Insights reported “no market need” as the top reason for 42% of failed startups. This means that new businesses are more interested in making what they want.

In reality, a business’s success depends on making what people need. For innovation to be considered impactful, it must successfully address a market need while balancing the value created and captured value. If any of these criteria are not met, the innovation is useless.

Executives often have strokes of inspiration where they stumble upon a “brilliant” idea. While their idea might genuinely be unique, it serves no purpose if it does not bridge a gap in the market. The spirit of innovation lies in solving problems, not brainstorming ideas.

People do not care how an idea sounds; they care about what problems your idea can successfully address. The reason most people fail to be innovators is not that they lack ideas but because they lack the persistence and determination to stick with ideas and evolve them into solutions that address market needs.

For instance, Google X operates with the mantra #MonkeyFirst. While it may sound bizarre, the reasoning behind this quirky mantra is that if you want to get a monkey to recite the works of Shakespeare on a pedestal. Your success is based on training the monkey, not building the pedestal. Of course, anyone can build a pedestal, but training the monkey is what will make you stand out from the crowd.

People start by building the proverbial pedestal against showing early progress in the race. The problem is that most people want to start with what’s easy and not what’s most important. Unless you can successfully train the monkey, the pedestal is useless. Ideas that do not impact reality or serve a real purpose can never be named innovation.

2. Innovation Is A Journey, And A Destination

Journey & Destination — Image from freepik

A single stroke of brilliance can neither successfully integrate innovation into your business nor keep your customers happy in the long term. Innovation is a long and laborious process that only bears fruit after effort. There is no sure-shot recipe for innovation. Instead, everyone needs to find the path that helps them stay relevant in today’s challenging industry. From startups to established organizations, everyone needs to use innovation to adapt to the constantly evolving market landscape.

While we remember revolutionaries for their brilliant ideas, it is essential to look at the journey that got them the recognition they deserved.

For instance, Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr spent the early 20th century engrossed in discussions that would alter the future of physics. Yet, no one paid attention to these visionaries during that time because the true impact of their work would not be evident until later. Then, half a century later, engineers started to comprehend the works of Bohr and Einstein, and essential components like the transistor and microchip were created. These innovations changed the face of the world and directly contributed to the information age that unveiled the productivity boom of the 90s.

This story of disruption captures the true essence of innovation. From discussions and inception to development and adoption, the process of innovation can span over years or even decades.

3. Acknowledging Innovative Ideas Wins Half The Battle

Innovative Ideas - Image from freepik

When faced with problems, people are told to “think outside the box” without understanding the implications of creativity. Yet, despite popular belief, creativity is not the solution to all your problems. Theodore Levitt, a former editor of the Harvard Business Review, dispels that creativity is the key to innovative business practices.

Creativity, based on definition, is the ability to come up with unique ideas. While seemingly brilliant, creativity can also be lethal to a business. Mindless creativity that does not take practical implementation into account can never yield purposive action.

The challenge when being creative is that it fails to differentiate between abstract creativity and practical innovation. With creativity defined as having excellent and original ideas, all the pressure is put on having brilliant thoughts without focusing on real-world applications.

For instance, suppose you have two artists. One tells you their idea for a brilliant painting but does not paint it, while the other painter has a similar idea and goes through with the process. While the thought process is the same, only the latter painter can be crowned as a creative artist as they are the ones who showed actionable results.

The same analogy applies to contemporary organizations. Between creativity workshops and retreats, companies try to teach the value of creativity to their employees. However, they fail to remember that brilliant talk is not the same as constructive action. Instead of focusing on brilliant ideas, companies should encourage persistent follow-through to ensure that all brilliant ideas are met with tangible outcomes.

5.  Innovation Requires Time and Iteration

Innovative Ideas — Image from freepik

Let’s delve into history to get a firmer grasp on innovation. The first personal computer was developed by Xerox, who undermined their discovery and did not invest enough in the technology, allowing Apple and Steve Jobs to take advantage of this opportunity. Unfortunately, while the idea was there, Xerox failed to recognize potential and lost a fantastic opportunity. This experience showcases a bitter reality, our bias to reject creative ideas in the face of uncertainty.

This case remains valid. Most companies perceive themselves to exist in a bubble of certainty. They value current safety over chances of future progress. When faced with uncertainty, these companies reject innovative ideas that could gain them a competitive advantage out of fear of possible failure.

As a result, the ideas that can breathe life into a company are being killed off to maintain a false sense of security.

An excellent way to develop ideas into actionable plans is to streamline organizational structure. For example, the approval process could be accessible and welcoming instead of going through traditional hierarchy and bureaucratic hurdles.

4. Being Creative Does Not Cut It

Being Creative — Image from freepik

When faced with problems, people are told to “think outside the box” without understanding the implications of creativity. Yet, despite popular belief, creativity is not the solution to all your problems. Theodore Levitt, a former editor of the Harvard Business Review, dispels that creativity is the key to innovative business practices.

Creativity, based on definition, is the ability to come up with unique ideas. While seemingly brilliant, creativity can also be lethal to a business. Mindless creativity that does not take practical implementation into account can never yield purposive action.

The challenge when being creative is that it fails to differentiate between abstract creativity and practical innovation. With creativity defined as having excellent and original ideas, all the pressure is put on having brilliant thoughts without focusing on real-world applications.

For instance, suppose you have two artists. One tells you their idea for a brilliant painting but does not paint it, while the other painter has a similar idea and goes through with the process. While the thought process is the same, only the latter painter can be crowned as a creative artist as they are the ones who showed actionable results.

The same analogy applies to contemporary organizations. Between creativity workshops and retreats, companies try to teach the value of creativity to their employees. However, they fail to remember that brilliant talk is not the same as constructive action. Instead of focusing on brilliant ideas, companies should encourage persistent follow-through to ensure that all brilliant ideas are met with tangible outcomes.

5.  Innovation Requires Time and Iteration

Right Timing — Imager from freepik

Computer pioneer Howard Aiken once said,

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats”. 

Tragic as it seems, sometimes the stars are not aligned for ideas to be instantly fruitful. When Alexander Fleming first shared his discovery of penicillin, no one batted an eyelid. Nowadays, modern medicine is based on his groundbreaking discovery. Looking back, the brilliance in his discovery seems obvious.

However, disruptive ideas can sometimes look like nothing at all. Occasionally an idea needs time to build momentum, gain traction within the industry, and meld with other innovations before making a significant impact.

From a distance, it seems that people like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs just stood on a stage one day and announced an idea that changed the world. However, in reality, several small ideas came together to embark on a journey of development and evolution before they gained enough substance to create a lasting impact.

From ideation and discovery to engineering and launching, the process of transforming your idea into a reality takes decades of devotion. Great innovators are not just people with an influx of creative ideas. They are people who are determined to put in the work to breathe life into their ideas and change the world in the process.

Final Thoughts

The journey of success is not just based on brainstorming creative ideas. There are several pit stops in the way of purposeful innovation from start to development. No matter how brilliant and unique, ideas by themselves do not pave the path towards innovation.

Talking the talk can be insightful, but walking the walk gets work done and yields results. While encouraging ideas can lead to brilliant breakthroughs, motivating people to act and deliver upon their ideas is the key to a successful innovative strategy.

When appropriately, ideas can become catalysts of change, bearing solutions and endless opportunities. Creativity and innovation, when yielded mindfully, can keep a business remaining relevant by helping it avoid stagnation and adapting to the evolving market.

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