Innovation is Hard. It Doesn't Have to Be.
Innovation Ideas

Innovation is Hard. It Doesn't Have to Be.

Sahil Thakkar

It’s hard to say just how many businesses around the world have had problems with innovation, but the number is certainly sizable. This is plainly apparent when looking at the amount of businesses that used to be behemoths, on top of their respective fields (and even the world), and constantly heralded as ‘unstoppable’, only to come crashing down unceremoniously. Of these, there may have been a few whose problem was they were overambitious and flew too close to the sun, but most of them had the opposite issue: they never flew at all. From Blockbuster to Kodak and HTC to BlackBerry, it is apparent that despite there being a wide range factors that may lead to a business’s downfall, in the end it almost always comes down to just one thing: failing to innovate, which leads to falling behind the competition.

When we consider this, one key question quickly emerges: Why couldn’t these businesses innovate? Sure, it’s likely that the immeasurable amount of complexity, bureaucracy, and red tape that came with their size may have made it challenging for them to innovate, but on the other hand they also had nearly unlimited resources to throw at the problem. And yet, they either misused (or even simply did not use) these resources for innovation. Why is this? Could it be that they did not realize its importance? This is unlikely, since innovation is and has always been crucial to getting ahead, and just about every good leader knows this. What, then, was the problem? Taking a closer look at the failure of these businesses, we can see from sources such as relevant interviews and articles on the issue that they had one of two mindsets regarding innovation: Either they were daunted by the finer details of its implementation and execution in their companies, or they simply disagreed on how best to implement it. Either way, these doubts and conflicts ultimately led to them being in an unfortunate situation where, before they knew it, they had gone from first place to last, with no way back.

This was a difficult but avoidable predicament. The truth is, the multitude of ways to engage in innovation is not one of its weaknesses, but one of its most crucial strengths. There are various approaches to innovation, each with their own pros and cons. It isn’t really the approach that’s the problem. There really only are a few important keys to innovation, and certain major mistakes to be avoided. These are very succinctly explained in some of the great videos and talks about innovation that are out there. If an organization keeps these in mind with regard to their innovation strategy, they already have almost all their bases covered. But that’s the key word. Almost. Because these keys, while they appear quite simple, are only deceptively so, having far more layers and nuances that could easily throw everything into disarray when they pop up unexpectedly. Furthermore, the mistakes that are to be avoided are quite well-known, and yet clearly harder to avoid than they appear, looking at how many organizations keep falling into them.

This is because innovation goes deeper than most people think, all while the general advice out there regarding it is just that: general. It doesn’t get into the weeds. It may tell you where to go and even how to get there, but it doesn’t tell you what to do when you inevitably fall into a ditch or take a couple of wrong turns and end up in the middle of nowhere, utterly lost. In the interests of remedying this problem, in this article we’re going to discuss five pivotal but often overlooked factors of innovation. Keeping these in mind will help you supercharge your organization’s innovation strategy and elevate it to new heights. Here they are:

1. DESIGN THINKING

Design thinking is an interesting concept which is going to see a lot of growth in the not-too-distant future. It comprises a design process whereby the product or service being designed isn’t envisioned from the point of view of the designer, but from the point of its eventual user, keeping their wants and needs in mind. It is an iterative process, centered around empathy. Because it’s more of a practical concept, one of the best ways to learn more about it is by perusing some recent stories related to it which will help you see it in action. Incorporating elements of it into your innovation strategy will help it flow much better and make it far more cohesive.

2. IDEATION

Needless to say, ideas are a huge part of any innovation program. However, the process of coming up with them is generally not given as much emphasis as it should. It is not enough to ask your employees to come up with ideas on their own. Ideas don’t come easily to most people, especially not on demand. You can help by answering their doubts about ideas and promoting some go-to resources  for getting them. But what’s most important is implementing systems through which everyone in your organization can get a crash course in ideation. It is a powerful process that entails using specific, tried-and-tested methods to consistently come up with great ideas; and ideas are, of course, the lifeblood of innovation.

3. CREATIVITY

Again, on the face of it, you may think that creativity seems like an obvious part of innovation, one which everyone will already know to focus on. But you’d be wrong, because many organizations are simply hopelessly lost when it comes to creativity. This results from the fact that while it may seem rather straightforward, it can actually be surprisingly difficult. But it is undoubtedly necessary, being closely tied to innovation. It is very important for anyone to have and use not just in work but as an integral part of their lives. There are some great books about creativity that serve as a good jumping-off point and there are some solid ways to get started with it, but making real progress in it can only be done by reconciling the massive disparity between one's expectations of it and the ground reality. People expect it to be some mythical force that, when applied, can easily help them come up with brilliant ideas and become the next Steve Jobs, and are disappointed when it isn’t. It is indeed undeniably powerful, yet inherently paradoxical in many ways. To help promote a more measured and complete understanding of creativity, you need to ensure that you dispel any stubbornly persistent myths about it within your organization, and start having detailed conversations about what it is and isn’t.

4. PERMEABILITY

Innovation fundamentally relies on openness. It is antithetical to innovation to create a system where it functions as a closed loop and where only a select few can contribute to your organization’s innovation ecosystem. You need to ensure that the hierarchy within your organization fosters a permeability of ideas, allowing them to flow quickly and without resistance in every direction. Innovation hinges on strong leadership, so a good way to achieve this change is to start from the top and encourage all managers and executives within the organization to have an Open Door policy. Another way is having a suggestion box or an internal portal where anyone and everyone in the organization can submit their ideas for consideration.

5. TEAMS

It’s possible to go solo when it comes to innovation, but it is only in teams that you can really innovate to the highest level. As the saying goes, you may go faster alone, but you can go farther together. Assembling diverse and skilled teams for specific tasks will allow your organization to innovate like never before, as team members sharpen their ideas against each other’s while also gaining valuable teamwork and communication skills. Collaboration is one of the strongest forces in innovation, and it should be among your highest priorities to consistently promote it in your organization at all levels.

These tenets will help you ensure that innovation isn’t an afterthought in your organization, but the engine on which it runs. By applying them, you will be able to soar to higher levels than ever before and open doors, both inside and outside your organization, that you didn’t even know existed. We hope you enjoyed this article, and we can promise you that once you really start innovating, you’ll fall in love with it. In fact, it’s one of the few habits where being addicted to it is actually a good thing! Imagine that!