What do you think: are innovators born or made? Surely, those who spawn ideas that change the world are special – different than the rest of us. Take one look at an Einstein, a Steve Jobs or a Da Vinci and it seems that they were bequeathed with something unique. Or at least solid knowledge of innovation business and these 11 innovation principles, don’t you think?
Check out our thoughts on building innovation.
But are we looking in the right direction? I believe the biggest secret of innovation is that anyone can do it. The reason is simple: It’s just not that hard. Look up the word “innovate” in any dictionary and see what it means, instead of what you think it means. You’ll find something like this:
To innovate is to introduce something new.
That’s it. It doesn’t say you need to be a creative genius or a workaholic. It’s just three little words: introduce something new.
The keyword in the definition is “new.” The common trap about newness is the assumption that new means something the universe has never seen before. This turns out to be a very bad assumption. Here’s why I conclude this: name any great innovator and I guarantee they borrowed and reused ideas from the past to make whatever it is they are famous for.
See this related article: Generating Ideas by Convergent Thinking
Companies often ask themselves why their innovation principles seem to produce so few truly game-changing ideas. Why are they mostly getting only lukewarm suggestions for incremental improvements rather than radical new concepts for revolutionizing their industries? How can an organization get dramatically better at generating big, breakthrough ideas?
To answer these questions, we first have to understand the principles of innovation. So the essential first step is to clarify how the innovative process works. What is missing in most large companies are innovation principles that translate ideas into winning ideas.
Given a deeper look, innovation seems more learned than innate and there is surprising consistency about what drives it. Here are 11 principles to guide you in your business innovation thinking:
Change where you’re headed
Learn to have a vision of the end state. To push innovation, set goals that are a stretch. Let me share an example: the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company, worked with Canadian nonprofit The Natural Step to create their vision of a sustainable restaurant. That vision included deriving 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources, having zero waste and zero carbon impact, and encouraging people to live more sustainably.
Today, Rocky Mountain’s three restaurants are carbon neutral, use local produce for their zero-waste menu and purchase green electricity — efforts that earned the company a big helping of green business awards.
Try using “back-casting,” not forecasting. For radical improvements, start with a vision of the future and work backward to today. This type of goal-setting is called “back-casting” and is the opposite of forecasting. Forecasting examines what happened in the past to plan for the future, and it delivers only minor incremental improvements.
Try lots of stuff
See what works. Emphasize the up on stuff that works quickly. Quickly kill stuff that doesn’t work. Learn, revel, and repeat.
Peter Drucker once wrote, “Effective innovations start small. They are not grandiose.” He was spot on.
Take a look at any big thing and, inevitably, it modest origins. Microsoft became one of the world’s most valuable companies by focusing on software, an area so inconsequential at the time that IBM was willing to write it off. Apple made a splash with the Macintosh in large part by capitalizing on innovations that Xerox tossed aside.
The great thing about thinking small is that you can risk failure because failure is sustainable. You can falter, pick yourself up and try again. Eventually, you’ll get it right, and when you do, there are no limits. If you can survive, you can thrive.
Challenge conventional wisdom
Ask employees for ideas and remember no idea is unworthy of consideration. Your employees see opportunities every day for saving money or doing things better. Ask for their ideas. At the U.S. Postal Service, 850 employee-led “Green Teams” helped save $52 million related to water, energy, fuel and waste and generated $24 million in new revenue through recycling.
Innovation business … ideas and inspiration
Read books and magazines, and watch videos and presentations on topics you wouldn’t normally. Attend conferences in seemingly unrelated fields. Pay attention to products or company ideas coming from other countries and other fields.
Place priority on getting outdated knowledge out of your mind
Challenge the way you’ve always done things. Maybe you could get materials from sustainable sources or buy wind- or solar-powered electricity. If it used to be too expensive to use hybrid vehicles in your delivery fleet, maybe that’s no longer the case.
Push passion and perseverance
The problem with finding good innovative ideas is that finding the right ones takes time. There are many examples to consider: Larry Page and Sergei Brin combined the system of academic sites with computer technology to develop the world’s greatest search engine. However, it was years before they stumbled upon Overture’s business model and found the combination that made money.
Spending years in the wilderness before becoming a runaway success is not at all uncommon. As Jim Collins noted in Built to Last, Sony started out as a failed rice cooker manufacturer. Hewlett Packard began by making quirky gadgets like automatic toilet flushers and a machine shocked people to help them lose weight.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame emphasized the importance of perseverance in Amazon’s success in a recent interview. He said that “We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details. … We don’t give up on things easily.” A lot of times, what looks like brilliance is just someone who has the balls to stick it out through years of failures.
Do things differently
Put on your thinking cap and rethink your business model. Could your company — or part of it — serve a social purpose? Have you noticed businesses that recondition and refurbish old products? Look closely and you will notice them. Companies donate the used products of all kinds, which these companies refurbish and sell at reasonable prices. And guess what? Perhaps you could also hire and train young workers struggling to enter the job market, and qualify for government assistance.
Here is another example: a niche retail shop in our Finger area decided to sell only products made by independent vendors in the area. Targeting a customer group that values unique clothes, jewelry, arts and crafts products and stationery, the company promises customers a shopping experience they can’t find anywhere else.
Can your business replace products with services? Challenge your assumptions about what your business does. You may be able to increase business by focusing less on selling products and more on providing services.
Connect the dots
While we like to think of innovators being lonely men on the mountain, only coming down, like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, to proclaim great revelations, the truth is that important breakthroughs usually come from synthesizing ideas from different domains.
One famous historical example is that of the discovery of genetics. In 1865, when Gregor Mendel published his groundbreaking study of inheritance of characteristics in pea plants, it went nowhere. It had taken nearly a half century before the concept was combined with Darwin’s natural selection to unleash a torrent of innovations in medicine and science.
A more recent example is the Apple ecosystem. There were plenty of digital music players around when Steve Jobs launched the i-Pod, but he combined his player with i-Tunes, which made content both more accessible and palatable to music companies. He then threw new products into the mix – the i-Phone, i-Pad, and Siri – creating more combinations and greater value.
Build collaborative teams
Broaden your thinking on who could join your networks. Build contacts beyond the usual suspects. In addition to employees, suppliers, investors and customers, broaden your network to include community action groups, lobbyists, social entrepreneurs, NGOs, industry associations and economic development groups. Work with, rather than against, your most vocal critics to diffuse situations before they hurt your reputation. Building bridges into unrelated fields and industries spark fresh ideas and opens up new markets.
Build a 70/20/10 portfolio
Of course, beyond all the happy talk, businesses must do more than just innovate. They need to serve customers, pay employees (and sometimes congressmen) and earn money. So prattling on about embracing creativity and failure often gets thrown to the wayside when it’s time to make a budget.
Nevertheless, Professor Kastelle brought a workable scheme to the table with his three horizons model.
Put 70% of your innovation efforts toward taking your competitor’s money
Put 20% of your innovation efforts toward taking somebody else’s money (often a customer or supplier)
Put 10% of you innovation efforts toward creating something very new and out of the box.
The bottom line
So there you have it, 11 principles of innovation. I’m sure I’ve left something important out, so feel free to add to these principles in the comments below.
Need some help in improving the innovation process for you and your staff? Innovative ideas to help the differentiation with your toughest competitors? Or maybe ways to innovate new products and services?
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All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day you learn and apply new innovative ideas.
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Test. Learn. Improve. Repeat.
Do you have a lesson about making your innovation learning better you can share with this community? Have any questions or comments to add in the section below?
Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of business. Find him on G+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change. We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.
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