Innovation isn’t the result you’re seeking

It's part of how you reach the solution

I just left this Centric Indiana workshop that got me all fired up about innovation. The primary speaker, Rick Roetken, is a business executive, mostly in home products (furnaces, faucets, cabinets, etc.) discussed innovation from an executive’s perspective (and how to get approval to move forward on risky new ventures).

It got me thinking about my own approach to innovation. Honestly, I’ve been approaching it from the perspective of, “We need an innovative solution. Let’s be innovative.” I see now that that’s not the most helpful. His presentation focused on finding legit, real, meaningful organizational solutions AND embedding innovation into the process. My former perspective is really about letting brainstorming control the process. This latter perspective is about customer input, colleague input, and data inform and control the process.

Rick’s perspective, even from working inside of multi-million dollar and billion dollar companies, applies to any sector and any decision maker. Here’s how I’ve summarized what I learned and how they apply to you:

  1. Innovation for innovation’s sake actually isn’t very compelling to an organization. Innovative processes can help bring about new ideas, but the new ideas MUST solve a very real problem for the organization. As a champion of new, communicate your ideas through the lens of business solution, not, “Hey! This is fun and would be neat to try.”
  2. Don’t wait for the, “Yes.” on your idea. Sometimes all you need to NOT hear is a, “No.” If you have a new idea or want to try a new project and are waiting fro a resounding, “Yes,” from your decisionmakers/powers that be, you may never get it. Instead, if you don’t get a “No,” keep moving forward.
  3. To get your new idea across, blend creative features with logical benefits. Take the time to craft your message so that you can communicate both the features of doing something in a new way AND how your organization and its stakeholders will really benefit.
  4. What you think is an “enemy of innovation,” is actually an “enemy of complexity.” These are Rick’s words to describe how other business functions may hesitate to want to implement your idea because it adds work and complexity to their existing roles and departments. The finance person MUST think through the financial implications. The marketing person MUST think through the marketing implications. They wouldn’t be doing their jobs otherwise. Your job is to help them understand how your innovative solution fits into their existing worldview or will make it better.
  5. Persistence pays off. There are no overnight successes. To bring a new solution or idea into this world isn’t just about the actual solution. It’s about influencing others to come along with you. It’s about changing standard operating procedures. It’s about adding new team members or moving team members to a different role. Be patient with people and impatient with the process. You never do this work alone.

At the end of the day, very few of us have roles where we can just brainstorm a list of ideas and call our work done. We all must balance solving very real business solutions by challenging the status quo and having fun while doing it!