Creating something new that was either just a paper scratch or a cloudy idea is enviably interesting to me. Whether it’s an Android app, design workflow or a sophisticated data collection system, I enjoy the process of creating. The process tells a story – decision-making and wrong turns along the way that can trigger questions and new ways of thinking. There is knowledge to be learned from the process. Between the birth of an idea and the final product, times (technology) changes so fast that it can impact the usefulness of the product you’re creating. How you use the knowledge to improve your idea or let it evolve is what’s relevant. There is no pre-determined order of operations when you’re on the road to innovation – only a single, irregular path and recording of the story that no one was expecting. Capturing the moments where creativity leads you to the next innovative thing is ultimately more rewarding than the product, workflow or manifestation you ultimately create. So what makes an idea profound enough to be innovative?
Before we get to that, let’s look at three reasons in response to “Why Innovate?”.
One of the obvious reasons for innovating is to out-compete your competition. In the proverbial “better mousetrap” scenario we find ourselves constantly trying to find better ways to solve problems. While this doesn’t mean you should innovate for the sake of innovation, it wouldn’t hurt to start thinking beyond what works now with the refreshing new tools that arrive on a monthly/yearly basis. What this means is you need to have creativity that matches your own leadership abilities. As Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO put it:
“Creative leadership isn’t about leaders simply becoming more creative. It’s about individuals leading for creativity. That means you, as a leader, must unlock the creative potential of your organization, no matter the industry. It’s your job to set the conditions for your organization to generate, embrace, and execute on new ideas. It’s a competitive imperative that will keep you ahead in the marketplace.” 1
Another reason to innovate is that change is constant. Not only that but it accelerates. Peter Drucker once coined the phrase, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” So really what he means is make change or be changed. Preparing for change to me means making change happen. To articulate this, move away from generic vision statements and towards goals that capture an innovative vision.
The final reason to innovate for me, is to make innovation meaningful. Does your product or process actually produce the effects you claim? Would you use it yourself? Are you making more work or less work? Clearly by now you have a product in mind that you’d like to change. You probably use it enough to claim some comfort level as to describe what you use it for and how you could make it more innovative. Fostering your innovative talent can not only help evolve it but will ultimately make it more meaningful for you in the end.
Great design for a great cause
2Unless your innovative product motivates potential customers to pay more, saves them money, frustration, time or provides some larger societal benefit (health, community, etc..) it is not creating value. Ask yourself often, are we just making a product perform better or are we actually accomplishing something bigger together? Why are we making this product; or this software or workflow?
Technological innovation is a huge creator of economic value and a driver of competitive advantage. So how do I go about creating innovation? My first step is to jump into my sandbox. No, not an actual sandbox filled with sand. For the uninitiated the term 3“Sandbox” generally refers to a testing environment that isolates untested theories and experiments from the production environment into a safe repository guarded from interfering with real world work. You can probably imagine it’s similar to the idea of a scientist experimenting in a lab.
So lets go back to the original question. What makes an idea profound enough to be innovative? There can be many answers to this question so please feel free to leave your comments below. I’ll try to answer it this way. The idea must have a positive impact – something that can be felt not only on a local level but a global level as well. Ideas like the solar tiles, home battery system and electric car from Tesla CEO Elon Musk. This fundamentally changes the way we consume energy. Granted, right now the electric car is shifting our resources from oil to coal, but that won’t always be the case. Just like Tesla, your idea has to be planted in the ground in order for it to grow and cultivate to reach its potential.
You’ve got to start somewhere. What are your 3 reasons to lead innovation efforts?
1 www.medium.com/ideo-stories Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO
2 The Lean Startup – Eric Ries