The context or environment you are in is critical for innovation. Many of these factors are beyond our control. For example, Edison lived at a time when the world was moving from mechanical to electrical. Edison took advantage of this context and his abilities with electricity to come up with a lot of exciting new inventions.
Some circumstances are beyond our control, but others we can change. Creating the right context for our innovation can be the difference between success and failure. Here are two examples.
1. Organizational Capability
To take an innovation from idea all the way to market is a process that most often takes more than one individual. It takes a team or organization. Does your group have what it takes to grow an idea into a product or service that can be used by others? Take some time to examine this concept. If your group can not look at the process, find people who can. Many good ideas don’t become innovations because organizations do not have the capability to take the idea all the way to market.
2. Market Preparedness
I was involved with the development of a new innovative approach to a product. Significant time and effort was spent talking with customers about what they wanted and incorporating their ideas into the product. Also excellent engineers made improvements to the product and everyone was very excited about its release. Unfortunately, once the product was released, sales were very lackluster. While not a complete failure, it was not a rousing success. In examining the process, we discovered we had created an expensive product that did a lot of great things, but the consumer was not willing to pay a premium for it. The market was not ready for our product, but was content with a more basic, but cheaper product. The lesson is to spend some time thinking about how your product will fit into the market.
As you innovate you need to carefully examine whether or not you have the right organization and also if the market is ready for your product. These two simple ideas can separate a good idea from a successful product.
This Blog was originally posted June 6, 2012
In our last blog we talked about the practical side of innovation. In this blog, we are going to address the productive side of innovation. When people discuss innovation they often focus on the creative side. It is where the fun is. It is the spark that ignites the innovation process. But many a very creative idea has failed because of problems on the productive side.
Edison put it this way, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” You have to have the spark of the 1% but without continuous work and follow through there will be no innovation. As long as you are going to need to work and perspire, you might as well be productive.
Recently, I read an article on the Forbes.com website titled, “9 Habits of Productive People.” It has some interesting thoughts on how to be productive. Two of the ideas really hit home with me.
1. Take More Breaks – In our working with companies, this idea has proven to be a great key to innovation. Edison worked hard and took breaks. He took a little time away to refocus and then was more productive when he returned.
2. Stop Multitasking – People think when they are doing a lot of different things at once they are getting a lot done. In reality, they are often getting a lot of things done poorly.
We studied the lives and practices of more than 130 innovators. Most were very successful at not only being creative, but also at being productive. Those that were very creative, but who struggled with productivity, found others to help them and take care of some of the vital, but more mundane tasks. So, while turning your inspiration into innovation, take time to make sure your perspiration is productive. It may be your key to genius.
There are a lot of amazing, creative ideas out there. Most of them never make it from the drawing board to an innovation to everyday use. What stops them? Is it a lack of funding, a lack of hard work or just a lack of luck? It could be any of those, but often it is a simple lack of practicality.
I know, you are thinking if we are creative and innovative, we do not need to be practical. The best innovators are both creative and practical. For example, we have written several times about the wonders of 3D printing (See Innovation in 3-D, More Innovation in 3D and Innovation and How to Save a Life ). Truly an amazing product. These printers are available now, so why don’t we have them in our homes and offices?
While these printers are available, they are quite expensive. But, consumers will buy them when they have a practical reason to do so. And that practical reason is just around the corner. A recent study shows that very soon it will be cheaper to print some products than purchase them. That phone case you spent $20 on could be printed at home for under a $1. When the printer is more affordable and people people realize that they can save money and customize their purchases, then the printers may be a very hot ticket. In other words, when a practical use is discovered then this product will become innovative in the truest sense of the word.
So, in your quest to be innovative, be as creative as possible, but don’t forget the practical.
We often work with people who want to be more innovative and ask what they can do to become more innovative today. While there are a number of skills and practices that can be improved, there is one activity that can quickly make the most difference.
This activity is closely related to creativity and imagination. It is internal and difficult to judge. It is the skill and discipline of taking time to think, ponder and use your imagination. The world we live in moves pretty fast. Information comes at us all the time from multiple sources and we can even carry it with us all the time. But there is a cost to being plugged in all the time. It can become dominating and addicting. We take time to take in the information, but not necessary enough time to process it and ponder new and creative ideas. Innovation takes time, but are we willing to take the time? Edison said, “The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.”
Here are several simple steps we can take to improve our ability to think, ponder and imagine:
- Unplug – This does not mean all the time, but on a regular basis we do need to take occasional breaks from the onslaught of fast-paced information. Create a time when you will not be interrupted and when you don’t feel you have to check your phone or email.
- Go for a walk without the iPod – Let your mind spend some time without stimulation, get a little air, clear your head and see what can come from that.
- Read something you enjoy – Read something that is not mindless, yet still gives you the opportunity to clear your mind and be open to new possibilities.
- Take time to daydream – Innovators are dreamers. Spend time in your imagination and dream of new possibilities and solutions.
These simple steps can put you on a path to greater innovation. They are simple in explanation but hard in implementation. It you spend some time doing one of them you will be greatly rewarded. So pick one and give it a try. Send us a note and let us know how you do.
This blog was originally posted April 10, 2012