I worry that our understanding of what it means to innovate has been diluted down to a measly 140 character headline or sound bite. I’m sure you’ve seen headlines such as “uberization of healthcare” or “airbnb of xyz”.
This makes for great press, but to innovate means much more. We are diluting its value by ignoring the backstory behind such value creation and creating false illusions for what it truly means to innovate.
To help un-dilute this misguided perception of innovation, I want to dispel 3 illusions (and there are many more) often portrayed by the media:
ILLUSION #1: Innovation is a one-size-fits-all approach.
FALSE! There is no universal one size fits all approach to innovation. While we certainly can learn from the many practical theories available to us from some of the greatest thinkers in the industry such as Clay Christensen, Jim Collins, or C.K. Prahalad , it’s important to understand that what works for one person or organization, may not work for another. Each circumstance is different with confounding variables that may not apply to your specific use case.
ILLUSION #2: Innovation is the work of a lone genius working in a silo.
FALSE! Walter Isaacson does a phenomenal job sharing real life stories in his new book of how innovation is the result of a collaborative effort over time. Steven Johnson does the same in his book “Where Good Ideas Come From“, sharing the notion that great innovations come about from slow hunches that are connected from the collision of numerous ideas over years. While the media may portray this false sense of eureka moments generated by a single individual because it makes for a great story, the reality is that innovative ideas are conceived by connecting thousands of ‘thought dots‘ that come together to make a transformational experience.
ILLUSION #3: Innovation is a sprint or marathon.
FALSE! Innovation is a relay, not a sprint or marathon. An idea alone cannot stand if it were not for some of the great thinking that preceded it.The reality is that transformational innovation cannot occur in a vacuum. True breakthrough innovation comes about from building on the ideas of others and working collaboratively to effect change and impact. Elon Musk’s decision to open up his IP for Tesla Motors and make it publicly available was a brilliant move that collaboratively allowed others to build on top of his inventions so that the entire transportation industry could be transformed together. By opening up his IP, Musk is able to gather the momentum needed to create an electric infrastructure to support his new motor inventions. As the saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats“, and with this innovation-as-a-relay perspective, Musk has the ability to truly transform a crazy vision into a stark reality.
In conclusion, as a consulting advisor to many organizations looking to create transformational change, I often get asked the question: “Can you help us create an innovative pipeline that can help build valuation, grow revenues, carve out new market segments, and disrupt our competitors?” To answer this question, it’s important to understand that innovation comes in many flavors and sizes, and that we should not get disoriented by the illusions of what the media portrays or wants us to believe. Depending on your strategic objectives and goals, how you approach innovation can vary widely – from small incremental improvements that nudge markets, to large transformational change that re-imagines entirely new human experiences. (Take a look at my prior essay, “Let’s Put an End to Mediocre Innovations in Health“, where I touch upon the basics of transformational innovation by re-imagining the human experience designed for what should be, not what they are.)