Ever talked to someone who churns out incredibly helpful soundbites throughout the entire conversation? Innovation strategist and architect Carla Johnson did just that on a recent episode of the Innovation Talks podcast. During that conversation, we talked extensively about the power of innovative thinking and its impact on ideas. Her book, “RE:Think Innovation,” expands on our discussion in great detail. Here are five insights from Carla that stood out to me.
Innovation culture is human-based
“If [companies] want an innovative culture, they have to reverse engineer it down to the people.”
Carla pointed out numerous times in our discussion that innovation can come from anyone (that mirrors my personal experience, too). The key is creating an innovation culture where everyone is encouraged to share an idea if it aligns with the company’s goals and mission. Leaders in an innovation culture understand that a job shouldn’t necessarily be connected to someone’s title. Unique innovation will emerge when companies allow employees to channel their talents and be a part of the process when it makes sense to do so.
Idea development requires a strong start
“The reason that a lot of ideas are hard to execute is because they weren't great ideas to start with.”
Yes! It’s the old ‘square peg in a round hole’ dilemma. Idea development is only as strong as the original premise. Unfortunately, weak ideas are too frequently pushed through to the next stage. For example, a leader who doesn’t get pushback decides that a team should advance a product, and folks are too afraid to be honest with them. Or perhaps the pressure to bridge a glaring portfolio gap forces teams to move fast and hope for the best.
Whatever those reasons are, they’re all bad. Sometimes you get lucky, and a faulty idea pans out for unforeseen reasons — but that’s the exception. It’s critical to do all the necessary legwork upfront to vet an idea, determine if it’s solving a customer problem, ensure it aligns with the company’s goals, etc. Otherwise, you’re looking at an incredibly unpleasant journey with limited chances for success.
Innovation is more than a product
“All too often, we think of innovation only as the product or the software or whatever it may be.”
Carla hit the nail on the head. Innovation isn’t a product. It’s the culmination of everything that goes into a product. It’s how you ideate, communicate, execute innovation jobs to be done, prototype, refine and on and on. When every task is centered around the combination of creativity and the structure necessary to channel that creativity in a repeatable and scalable way, you will organically launch products that are, by their nature, innovative.
Innovation can take time
“You can't hurry curious.”
Four powerful, incredibly accurate words. Carla referred to how kids are adept at taking their time and noticing things that fly past the periphery of their adult counterparts. True innovation requires thoughtful observation and noticing minute details that could be applied to whatever customer problem we’re trying to solve.
Of course, once we realize those observations are unique opportunities to achieve goals, it’s important to have a process to move them through efficiently. You have to take time to come up with innovative ideas. Apple didn’t crank out the iPhone over a long weekend (probably to Steve Jobs’ dismay).
Don’t discount obvious ideas
“What trips up a lot of people is that they want to make [innovation] complex. And there really is a thing called the complexity bias, where we think that if something is simple, it's not as good as something that's complex.”
This is an excellent life lesson and certainly holds true for innovation. Yes, some ideas require a monologue of context to understand. Then, there’s fire. Simple right? Some unsophisticated cave-dwellers figured out that it not only keeps you warm, but also makes for a good portable light source and cooking tool. Again, it goes back to identifying a customer problem and determining the best solution. And in so many cases, the most obvious answer is the best.
As you can see, innovative thinking is more than just spending time pondering the possibility of the next big thing. It’s an exercise that can be nurtured when organizations develop ideas holistically.
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