All the business articles and blogs are telling us we need to be more innovative and just how to do it with the righteousness of tabloids touting the latest celebrity diet. Innovation as a buzzword is all the rage.
So we start innovation task forces and committees and add “innovation” to job descriptions and mission statements and company values and we INNOVATE! Except we don’t.
It all falls apart because we treat innovation like it’s a task on a to-do list or a product we can purchase. Innovation is not a project to be managed. Innovation not an outcome. Think about it this way: no one wants a diet – they want to be thin and fit. Likewise, no one really wants innovation – we just want a competitive advantage.
The most innovative and creative people I know have several things in common:
They are intensely curious about many, many different things. They read and explore ideas constantly.
They are able to bring seemingly unrelated ideas together across several different fields. Experts get stuck with the “known” of their narrow world. Innovators are almost never described as experts – they aren’t attached to the status quo in any one field so they are never stuck rehashing the solutions. They are free to incorporate solutions from everywhere.
They love to make the complicated simple.
They are a little weird and a little odd. They think differently and ask questions no one else asks. They wonder why things are the way they are and why things couldn’t be different.
They take time to think. Inspiration doesn’t happen according to schedule . It generally strikes when we’re working on something completely different, in the shower, while on a run, sitting on a park bench, or doodling in a boring meeting.
They don’t care about your opinion. If they did, they’d get stuck trying to fit in with societal groupthink. Instead, they go their own way and hope you’re smart enough to join them. This is very important because innovative ideas rarely get past a committee. Instead, it really seems to come from people and companies who don’t have to account to others for wanting to change the status quo. Either because they were in charge like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg or because they’ve been given license to play like at 3M, Google, or various skunkworks groups that operate protected from company norms, or because they have no vested interest in the status quo to begin with.
They NEVER, EVER, NOT EVEN ONCE set out to innovate. They think different and want to find better solutions.
Forget innovation. Focus on creating great new products and services and improving the existing ones. That’s where innovation lives.