When we talk and teach about innovation, we often start with a discussion on the definition of innovation. We bring up several different definitions to help spur the discussion. The value is in the back and forth discussion. When people discuss creativity and innovation good things happen to the individual and the organization. The final definition is not nearly as important as the journey.
Below is a short animated discussion on creativity and innovation that is worth thinking about. What do you think about these definitions? Are they too simple? Do they convey all of the meaning of the words? What would you add or subtract to the definition? As you watch all the way to the end, you will notice in the final few seconds, in smaller print, something that may be the most important part of the message. So, spend some time today thinking about creativity and innovation and see what good things can happen.
Risk is inherent in innovation and in many other aspects of business and life. How do we deal with it? Some people avoid risk. If you don’t take many chances, then you won’t have many failures. Few people claim to take this approach, but in business it is easy to take the safe road and stay with the status quo. Others take many risks and are over confident in their approach. Sometimes you see them succeed, but often they get even more confident, and then take unnecessary chances. For them failure is not an option, it is inevitable.
Where do we find the balance? An example occurred recently when two people with jet packs attempted to fly in formation with an Airbus A380. This appeared to be very risky with lots of moving parts that could go wrong. The flyers have wings strapped to their backs with small jet engines attached. The plane is one of the largest in existence. How many of us would jump out of a helicopter and try to fly around a plane at that speed?
At first I thought, “This is crazy, why would anyone take the risk?” Then as I watched the video, one of the solo pilots gave an interesting insight. Yves Rossy, known as Jetman, stated “to reduce these risks, there is a lot of preparation.”
We cannot eliminate risk, but there are things we can do to control, or mitigate it. Do we have the willingness to take the time to prepare and be ready, and reduce the risk to a manageable level? Here are several ideas to help to manage your risk with your innovation.
1. Recognize the Risk – You don’t have to dwell on the potential pitfalls, but you do need to know that they exist. If you look for them and acknowledge them, then you can take steps to avoid them.
2. Reduce the Risk – Once you see the potential risks, take the necessary steps to avoid them. If you just say, “Don’t worry that won’t happen to us,” you may find yourself in a lot of trouble when it does. Take steps to avoid potential problems, and be ready for them if they occur.
3. Prepare – If you are prepared, you do not have to fear risk. Have your innovation or project as ready as possible. Don’t take unnecessary shortcuts. If you have done all that you can to prepare, then the risk may just be worth it.
This Blog was originally posted November 13, 2015.
In today’s world we face economic, political and social uncertainty and change. It is imperative that individuals, companies, governments and other organizations find new, creative and innovative solutions to new and difficult problems. This is why innovation is such a critical part of leadership. Steve Jobs stated, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” If leaders are not willing to look for innovative solutions, they may simply be left behind.
Not all leadership situations may require innovation, but leaders must at least be able to decide if innovation is necessary. Timing is an important part of leadership. The leader must assess the needs in a given situation and then act at the appropriate moment. There are several needs that must be met by a leader in regards to innovation.
1. The need for the leader who can innovate and foster innovation. Innovators often become leaders out of necessity. To take an innovation to fruition, the creator must often be the one who coordinates and leads the entire innovation process. Also, many leaders can only succeed if they can create an environment where people will create new and better ways for the company to function and produce better products. To succeed they must adopt the statement by Walt Disney, “I believe in being an innovator.”
2. The need for the organization that leads by innovation. Breaking into a new market requires innovation. Companies that can innovate become the market leaders and often can only stay at the top as long as they continue to innovate. Peter Drucker stated that, “Business has only two basic functions – marketing and innovation.” To be successful you must excel at both.
3. The need for the leader who knows when to innovate and when not to innovate. Not every situation requires a new and exciting solution. The leader must be able to recognize when a tried and true approach is appropriate, and when to introduce a new innovative idea or product.
Learning to lead innovation may be as important as the innovation itself. Without recognizing the need for proper leadership many an idea or product has simply died on the road to success. So, as you look to innovate, look to see who is going to lead the process. Finding the proper leader may just be the key to success in your innovation.
When Edison said “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration,” he was not just talking about the 10,000 attempts on the filament of the light bulb. He was talking about all of the other work to get the idea from the mind of the inventor to actual use by the user. A lot of people have new and interesting ideas, but to be innovative you have to do a lot more. Often the creating, improving and refining of the product or process is just the beginning.
Being able to focus on gathering the necessary resources, collaborating with the right people and focusing on the end user can be more critical than the product itself. The goal is not just to come up with something new, but rather something new that will be used.
The video below shows how Edison worked and promoted himself and his ideas to be successful. Follow some of his example, and you just may be able to have a great innovation.
There are many barriers to creative ideas and innovations. Often, we may not see that the process we are using may be the cause of our own failure. In a world with almost limitless data and opinions, we may not be getting information that is helpful. We may actually be getting information that is incomplete or just plain wrong.
The important task is to find the barriers to the best information and remove them. These barriers may be in places you don’t expect, but they stand in the way of moving your idea forward. Such obstacles are not new. The video below shows that such obstacles may have been around since the stone age. Take a look. With a little imagination, you may find ways to remove significant barriers to your innovation.
The world of politics and government dominate the news. Elected officials make decisions that affect the economy and many of the things that we do in our daily lives. I recently asked myself, “Are politicians truly innovative?” After spending a little time trying to research into this question I came to the conclusion, for the most part, while they often use the word, their actions are rarely innovative. This conclusion was not a surprise, but it did beg the question why are they not able to be innovative. Here are some reasons why they are not innovative, and a way they can help others:
Their focus is not on innovation. – People in public office seem to have motives in two areas, one is helping people and making the world a better place, the other is in getting reelected. Although increasing funding for education, creating safety regulations, building bridges and fixing the roads may be helpful and may help provide ways for others to be innovative, none of these are new activities. Governments have been doing these things in largely the same ways for thousands of years. Also, talking about being innovative may help get you elected, but following through on that promise is difficult, if not impossible.
They are not given the chance to fail. – Innovation by its very nature is risky. It can only flourish in environments that allow for failure. Elected officials do not have a lot of margin for error. One failed program or approach may be enough to end a political career. The electorate does not tolerate bad results. A sentiment stated by Edison is common with many innovators. He said, “Negative results are just what I’m after. They are just as valuable to me as positive results.” If a politician said they were looking for negative results in a campaign speech, they may not be giving many more speeches. This inability to fail makes innovation incredibly difficult.
They may struggle to be innovative, but they can promote innovation. – Governments can craft policies that benefit or stifle innovation. These policies can deal with regulation, infrastructure, taxes or other areas. Also, government funds can be directed into innovative projects. Politicians can work with businesses to help develop new technologies, such as with a recent project related to new water technologies in Southern Ontario (Click Here). Relating to this project, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “This project is a great example of government, post-secondary institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and businesses working together to drive innovation and create new jobs and opportunities for Canadians.” Being able to get different groups working together is often the key to driving innovation.
A few weeks ago we were asked to do a presentation at the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management. The college is consistently ranked among the top hospitality programs in the world, with an actual functioning hotel located in the center of a large college campus run by students. We discussed innovation with a group a senior level and graduate students in a course titled, ‘Innovation and “Unconventional Marketing.” As a presenter I learned from the experience and I hope that the students in attendance were also able to gain from the discussion.
First, I loved the title of the course. Think how much we would all benefit if we attended a class with the concepts, “innovation” and “unconventional.” This would include ideas on creativity and being able to do new things in new and different ways. So much of what we learn in school, is by necessity, more of an exercise in memorizing, getting information in your head and then being able to get it back out in a coherent and timely matter. This is an important skill, but we also need to work on the skills of creating, dreaming and stretching ourselves.
Second, it was great to see a school that was also a working laboratory in hospitality. Where you don’t just learn a concept, but you then have to apply it and see how it works in the real world. When we work with individuals about innovation, or anything else, we try to teach in the same approach. Edison put it this way, “I would rather examine something myself for even a brief moment than listen to somebody tell me about it for two hours.” We need to take the time to do, feel, and touch if we really want to understand and improve.
Lastly, students still have a sense of wonder and an expectation that they can make a difference. For various reasons we often lose that as we progress in our careers. In order to be successful at innovation, we must rekindle these feelings and then act upon them. As we do this, we may find what we need to successfully complete our innovations.
What is innovation? What is creativity? What is just a new idea? In our blog and our other activities we do not define these terms as much as explore them. But words do have meanings and innovation is used a lot, especially in commercials. It has become a synonym for new and exciting. While innovations are often new and exciting, redoing old things in a new package is not innovation. Sometimes it is not even very creative.
Recently, I ran across an article that caused me to think about the word innovation. It contained an entire section on food innovation. It was titled, Taco Bell to Add Breakfast Biscuits in Bid for Morning Sales. As I first read this, I thought this is not a proper use of the word innovation. But then I reconsidered. Some of the ideas in the article were very creative and did result in new products. While they may not be revolutionary, they were creative and possibly innovations. But the real question in this area may not be are they innovative, but rather, “How do they taste?” If they are delicious then they may have success, if they are not they will probably be failures. They do not have to be innovative to be successful.
So as you work toward innovation, be creative, be new and be resourceful. Keep an eye out for new ideas and innovations that inspire you. Who knows you may even find one at lunch.
We believe in the power of discovery learning. We would rather guide someone through the process of innovation than talk about it. Talk and knowledge are important, but experience is key. Everyone has had different education and experiences that have prepared them for where they are today. Your life path gives you a unique view of the world. Taking time to learn from your experiences can be a key to success.
Edison stated, “You cannot put a price on the knowledge gained by children when they are allowed to see something with their own eyes, such as a cocoon breaking open and a butterfly emerging.” I once worked with some young engineers who were fresh out of college. They were smart, full of energy, and unfortunately they were struggling to do the work assigned to them. After some discussion it was decided that they needed to spend time in the field doing very basic things, including putting on some work gloves and turning a wrench. They did not understand that some of their great ideas, had very difficult practical application. After the time in the field, their ideas improved and they were a greater asset to the organization.
Many innovations come from observing the world around us and then discovering an innovation. For example, Velcro was discovered from watching seeds stick on pants after a walk in a field. We see things every day that can be learning experiences for us. Here are three steps in discovery learning that you can use in your life.
Observe – “In regard to things I have never seen before, I would rather examine something myself for even a brief moment rather than listen to somebody tell me about it for two hours.” – Thomas Edison
Reflect – Without reflecting on your experiences, they are just moments in time. With reflection and thought they can become life changing events.
Apply – Take what you have reflected on and do something with it. Give it a try. Often your success or failure are not as important as the effort. Either way you have something new to observe and reflect upon. Edison explained, “I can never find the things that work best until I know the things that don’t work.”
The world is a laboratory that we work in every day. We can just have experiences or, we can take time and discover what we can learn from them. We may be able to observe and learn what is needed for our innovation or any other problem we face.
Recently I came across a quote that applies to some of the problems organizations have with trying to stay innovative. Zig Ziglar stated that, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” In working with companies that are trying to be more innovative, we see the same problem. There will be a big push to be innovative, but as time goes on people go back to their old ways, practices and habits.
It is not that individuals and groups don’t want to be innovative, but we are all really busy with the daily grind. There is work to be done, deadlines to be met and, while innovation will help us reach our long term goals, it can get in the way of what we feel is needed today.
This is one of the reasons we started blogging about innovation. We don’t just want to give people a shot in the arm about innovation, we want to help people make innovation part of their culture. People need to be continually reminded about what they have learned and focus on applying it. There are a number of things we can do regularly that can help us become more innovative. Here are three to think about and apply:
Regularly spend time being creative. If not every day, then often. This is one you can work on individually. Disconnect from what you have to do and spend time doing what you need to do. Read, paint, play an instrument, sing, create, dream, write, go for a walk–what ever you need to do so you will have a more creative mindset.
Make innovation part of the conversation. A good motivational innovation speech, class or presentation is just where you get started. Learn the language of innovation and then use it your discussions. Reward those on your team who are creative, even if you don’t use their idea. The next creative idea might be right around the corner and you want to make sure they are willing to share.
Don’t just talk about being innovative, be innovative. This is where is gets harder, but where you can make a difference. The change has to begin with you. Demonstrate what want done by being creative and innovative. Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk. As you do this, you will be surprised how much this will change your group for the better.
So spend time every day taking a bath in creativity and innovation. This habit may not make you clean, but it will help you be refreshed and with a little luck find the innovation success you are looking for.