What it Takes to Be Innovative

Innovation is critical to business survival today. You can’t afford to rest on your laurels and hope that what you are doing today will work as well — or better — tomorrow. Change is part of the environment today. And you need to be prepared. Like Alice’s White Queen, you need to run as fast as you can just to stay in place.

There’s only one problem with this need to innovate. What does it take to be innovative?

It’s fine to say that all businesses must be innovative. But the advice is somewhat useless without some guidance on what it takes to be innovative.

So what do we find when we go looking for advice on what it takes to be innovative?

We find advice on how to be more creative. We find prescriptions on how to use mind mapping or brainstorming or six hats or whatever the process du jour is. But there’s a problem. Even if we become more creative, we won’t necessarily become more innovative.

So if just being more creative isn’t enough, what does it take to be more innovative?

Let’s start by looking at what makes up innovation and see if there isn’t an answer built in. If we do, we find two key pieces of information.

The first is the difference between innovation and improvement. Both are fine targets. But where improvement represents a slow and steady growth plan, innovation represents a massive opportunity to grow. If we examine them closer, we find the difference is in their origin. Improvement represents a continuation of the existing patterns — in thinking, in process and in product. It is inwardly focused, that is it draws its inspiration from a desire to improve what is currently known. Innovation on the other hand, has its origins outside. It represents a departure from the existing. It’s source and focus is on new thoughts coming from outside. Robert Wieder said, “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.”

The second is the difference between creativity and innovation. Creativity is the generation of new ideas. It exists in the mind and in the thought. Innovation is the practical application of creativity. Innovation is the product of creativity and implementation. It’s what occurs when creativity, applicability and implementation combine.

So now that we know what innovation is, what does it take to be innovative?

It takes creativity. It takes looking at your current world — your current way of doing things — with a new set of eyes. It takes the addition of new thoughts, ideas and influences. And the willingness to express those ideas.

It takes applicability. It takes the willingness to test ideas. The willingness to ensure only good ideas get through. The courage and support to accept that some ideas should and will fail. That the key to success is not in having only good ideas but in having enough ideas to eliminate those that aren’t good.

And it takes implementation. It takes a unique set of management skills focused on creating a team, focusing their efforts on achieving something new, guiding them to that target and then letting someone else take over.

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