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How to overcome the innovation predicament – the term versus the spirit

I’ve observed before how everyone wants innovation but no one wants to innovate. The essence of that observation roughly 6 months ago was that although the talk of and need for innovation (from company executives) was high, interest in the topic wasn’t (from punters).

Not much has changed since except the gap has probably grown. Can you blame people when there are so many other pressing issues and people are overwhelmed.

That doesn’t take away from the fact that it is still very much needed, nor from the fact that it is happening in abundance, despite all the disinterest in the term or even all the other overwhelming pressures.

Distractions and pressures aside, people, whether in startups or large corporations, are out there innovating and doing their thing every single day. They are just not necessarily calling it innovation.

Who cares then, what it’s being called, as long as its being done. And I don’t believe the imperative for it being done comes just from executives.

Most, whether admitting it or not, want to be innovative. It’s an innate desire to evolve, be creative or inventive. It’s built into us. It was needed for survival in the real jungle, now the jungle has evolved but survival by these means is still necessary.

For evidence that there is a bunch of innovation hustle and bustle out there, look no further than the Creator Economy. If you want deeper level insights on this, follow Creator Economy by Kaya Yurieff from The Information (a newsletter). The creator economy is just another catchy phrase for people being innovative (since creativity is at its core) and by all accounts, it’s huge.

The difference in the terms and spirit of it is that on the one hand there is a lot of talking going on (about innovation) and on the other, on being innovative (by just doing stuff).

In an age where self promotion is par for the course, its understandable that talking dominates. And there is good reason to shout about successes and spreading the word. But when it comes to innovation, it is the doers that matter and just plain being innovative. As an individual or a company, whatever you call it, this is what determines success and in many cases survival.

So how can we do more or be more innovative

  1. As an individual, experiment. Try things out and see where it leads. By this I mean a methodical approach that begins with an hypothesis and then pursues a series of trials to either prove or disprove it. The benefit of doing something yourself, whether at work or in your personal life, is that the barriers to doing so are super low and this approach should provide data. Assuming positive, you can present the data as evidence in arguing your case and getting others on board as will inevitably be the case. This is quintessentially a learning by doing exercise and any which way it goes, it’s a win.
  2. As a company, cultivate intrapreneurs. I wrote an eBook that was partly on this subject and that’s how this website started. Read that or any of the posts I created as part of researching that book under various tags: innovation hacking, startup innovation or intrapreneur. In many of those you will find, whether in startups or large companies, stories where individuals are given the freedom and courage to innovate with the success this brings. But don’t just take my word for it, PwC have a series that cover this well (even if not using the term intrapreneur – but remember, its not about terms): Workforce of the future – The World in 2030. Ditto the World Economic Forum: David vs Goliath – Understanding the corporate battle of digital disruption.
  3. In general, forgive failure. People wont try if they fear failure. They have to give themselves permission to fail. In companies you can make it safe to fail (great article from McKinsey which explains how and also recounts a story about Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s approach to this). Speaking of Microsoft (disclosure), one other thing it does is organise global hackathons, with customers even, most recently. These are essentially safe spaces and times to innovate and fail gloriously even though the ultimate goal is to come up with great ideas that can be commercialised. Some examples of the latter here: The Garage Wall of Fame – Microsoft Garage. This should apply to the whole of society really if we are ever to overcome the innovation predicament and solve some of its biggest challenges and ills in the true spirit of innovation.

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