Here are four things about innovation you rarely hear, but are crucially important.
The truth is that there is no one path to innovation. Everybody has to find their own way. Just because someone had success with one strategy, doesn’t mean that it’s right for the problem you need to solve. So the best advice is to gather as many tools for your toolbox as you can. Here are four things about innovation you rarely hear, but are crucially important.
- Your success often works against you.Managers do need to realize that there is a fundamental tradeoff between innovation and optimizing operations. Running efficient operations requires standardization and control to yield predictable outcomes. Innovation, on the other hand requires experimentation. You need to try a lot of new things, most of which are going to fail.
That’s why success so often leads to failure. What makes you successful in one competitive environment will likely be a hindrance when things change. So you need to work to find a healthy balance between squeezing everything you can out of the present, while still leaving room to create and build for the future.
- Don’t look for a large addressable market. Look for a hair-on-fire use case.Greater efficiencies lead to fatter profit margins, which allow you to invest even more on improvements, creating a virtuous cycle. Yet when you are trying something to do something truly new and different, trying to scale too fast can kill your business even before it’s really gotten started.
A better strategy is to identify a hair on fire use case — someone who needs a problem fixed so badly that they are willing to overlook the inevitable glitches. They will help you identify shortcomings early and correct them. Once you get things ironed out, you can begin to scale for more ordinary use cases.
- Start with the monkey first.Innovation isn’t about ideas, it’s about solving problems. The truth is that nobody cares about what ideas you have, they care about the problems you can solve for them.
At Google X, the tech giant’s “moonshot factory,” the mantra is #MonkeyFirst. The idea is that if you want to get a monkey to recite Shakespeare on a pedestal, you start by training the monkey, not building the pedestal, because training the monkey is the hard part. Anyone can build a pedestal.
- The next big thing always starts out looking like nothing at all.We always think that when we see the next big thing it will be obvious, but the truth is that it always starts out looking like nothing at all. The problem is that when something truly has the power to change the world, the world isn’t ready for it yet. It needs to build advocacy, gain traction among a particular industry or field and combine with other innovations before it can make an impact.
Innovation is never a single event. It is a long process of discovery, engineering and transformation that usually takes about 30 years to fully complete.
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