Inspiring Innovation
Inspiring Innovation
You’ve noticed. Business has radically changed. No longer can you sit back and enjoy increased revenues from the same products, year after year. You need to do something different. Maybe you need to find a new market for your products. Or perhaps you can find a way to solve new and emerging problems for your existing market.

You ruminate on it. You decide to host a “town hall” meeting, in which you strongly encourage your employees to be innovative and entrepreneurial! Your accompanying slide deck spells out the imperative. Innovate or wither. Bring an entrepreneurial mindset to the job or be left behind. Everyone returns to their cubicles to think about this new charter.

Here’s the problem. You can no more mandate innovation or entrepreneurship than you can artistic ability. That’s not to say that you cannot foster both, but a large meeting with a PowerPoint deck fails to do that. Every company, every executive is looking for the magic formula that will produce breakthrough products, services, and revenue. You are far from unique. And if you want to ensure that your people—your most valuable assets—succeed, you need to first understand what innovation is, and is not.

Innovation is not creativity. Creativity is coming up with a big idea, which is important, but isn’t what we’re talking about. Innovation is not implementation. Implementation is putting something into practice. It’s a component of innovation. It’s not improvement, and it’s not recycling. Improvement is taking an existing product or service and making it better. Recycling is when you take an existing product or service and either duplicate it or repackage it for a different market. Innovation is not a thing, or a one-off activity.

Innovation is a process. Innovation leads to disruption, and it takes many small steps to get there. Innovation is rooted in a deep understanding of your market. Innovation is painful! Innovation means thinking about things differently, and doing things differently. Assuming you really, truly, want your teams to innovate, the onus is on you to remove barriers they are likely to face, including:
  • Short-term focus
  • Fear of risking existing business or streams of revenue
  • Excessive “efficiency,” which stymies free thinking
  • Focusing inward on our problems and limitations, rather than looking outward at market pain
  • Fixation on predictable results
  • Punishing failure—this never motivates success
Most importantly, savvy managers who truly seek innovative ideas do not conduct themselves as task masters. They are approachable leaders, who are vested in the success of their people. If you really want to change the game you’ve been playing, then it is up to you to live this new truth. Take a look at what you are doing right now that stifles innovation, and get rid of it. Innovation is much more than a poster, a logo, or a fancy slide deck. It begins with a mindset, and ends in market disruption. You want to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to support that disruption.