The Problem of Innovation: Why isn’t it happening for me?
Thomas A. Edison, the genius behind the invention of the light bulb once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Now, you might well ask – Why start an article on innovation with a quote about failure when I should be talking more about success?
The reason is that the foundation of success lies in the courage to overcome a series of failures, and while people would rather talk and hear about success and innovation, very few of us are actually brave enough to push against the friction of failures.
You have probably read a thousand blogs and attended all manner of seminars and presentations on innovation, and maybe you’ve spent a good amount of resources already to transform your organization into an innovation machine and enter the list of great innovative companies in the world. Maybe, you’ve already followed all the recommended steps written in the “textbooks” and “scripts” about how to innovate; and yet you may also feel that even though a few things have changed, the important things are still pretty much the same.
- What do you do when you feel like you’ve already run a mile barefoot and yet you don’t seem to have moved at all?
- What do you do when you’ve already sent a couple of invitations to innovation to come to the party, and never received a reply?
Maybe it’s time to go back to the beginning, look at yourself in the mirror, and then fix the loopholes that are draining away all your efforts and diverting all the productivity in a totally different direction – a road you never intended to travel.
- “Where is the problem?”
“All things bright and beautiful” goes the saying. Most often we do not find innovation because we do not actually see real problems, or maybe we have a passive attitude towards the problems we see around us.
2. “Time is money!”
We are impatient and rarely willing to wait. We live in a short-term world of ‘results now’ and pressure employees to respond with short-term fixes, because we are not ready to wait for or work at the long term solutions. As much as we invest resources, we also need to invest time, patience, and persistence for a new culture to grow.
3. “Hello Superman!”
We expect million dollar ideas to pour down like a waterfall of innovation during one brainstorming session and an immediate first-time win. The reality is that innovation is hard, you have to work it again and again. It needs a motivated team working together not one brilliant individual with an idea.
4. “Fix Yourself First”
We all love talking about innovation, and encouraging people to innovate – but surprisingly sometimes it’s the very people talking the most about innovation who are unwilling to change when the questions are asked in reverse.
5. “Dummies with Armani suits”
We get caught up with superficial ‘Innovation Theater’. In innovation, insight wins out over appearance, action wins over planning, and hard work wins over showy innovation centers and funky job titles. Mark Zuckerberg, when asked about his casual dress, said: “I want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community. I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life, so that way I can dedicate all of my energy towards just building the best products and services.”
When you want to plant new trees in the field, you first need to spend all your energy, sweat, and time in preparing the land. No matter how great the seed and its promise of growth maybe, it is bound to die unless the atmosphere and environment are conducive to germination and growth.
So, maybe the person standing between you and innovation success is your own self. If you really want innovation to be at the center of your organization, the process of change has to start with you. You need to cultivate the atmosphere of an open culture where even the tiniest idea gets room to grow. You need to give your employees the freedom to share and encourage each other with new ideas, and make them brave enough to take new roads with the space to fail and learn and, most importantly, the support and reassurance to get back up and try again, and again, and again.
Perhaps the biggest problem in the field of innovation is that we know what we want but we don’t know how to get it. We begin with the end in mind and end up in a cycle of assumptions about the direction to take. We need to forget everything we think we know about the problem and take the time to truly understand it. Real innovation comes from finding a new path not following the highway that everyone else is traveling on.
The debate on innovation has been going on for centuries, and will carry on as long as there is still single problem in the universe to solve and one optimist who believes he/she can fix it. All you need to remember is that if you want to find innovation at your doorstep, you have to start digging under your feet. That’s where you begin to look at what you think you know and question it. You also need to accept and own your mistakes and have the willingness to change yourself first. Coming up with a new idea for innovation is actually the easier part, relatively.
Go ahead. Stretch yourself. Ask yourself questions that you’ve never asked before. Poke around in all the nooks and crannies in your organization and find the leaks that drain out all the potential and creativity. Work on yourself and then your people before you take on the world. Then you won’t have to search for innovation. Instead, innovation will come in search of you.
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