At Creative Realities, we have identified five essentials for innovation. These are attitudes and behaviors that will make even the best-planned and best-executed innovation processes easier to pursue. In our experience, no innovation effort can reach its full potential without these five innovation essentials:
1. Cross Functional Communication
“What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate”
If death certificates were written for failed innovation efforts, the cause of death frequently would have to be listed as failure to communicate. Good communication is essential in every phase of innovation, and it is particularly critical at those points where various parts of your organization—including ones that have little history of interaction with innovation efforts or have a record of negative interactions—have to come together to move your process forward.
At every step along the innovation highway, double-check to make sure the channels of communication between the necessary parties are open and operating smoothly. Be certain everyone understands the strategic vision and keep coming back to that in your communication as the touchstone around which all else revolves.
As you move through the various innovation phases and need to expand your innovation team, thoroughly communicate to new team members what has happened in previous stages and what their roles will be as you move forward. This sharing of information and expectations will help galvanize the newly expanded team into a cohesive unit.
Be alert for any signs of internecine warfare between various functional units that are involved in your innovation effort. Past differences can be put aside and strong new alliances can be formed if communication is handled properly. Sometimes, this may require the intervention of the decision makers to end turf battles. When things seem to bog down because of cross-functional differences, leaders must reemphasize their support for the strategic vision and for the innovation effort as an important step toward that vision.
Fill Your Suitcase with Resolve
Steadfastness in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges is the hallmark of a true innovator. As Albert Einstein said, “I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.” Organizations that aren’t willing or able to get to that hundredth time are the ones that end up as casualties along the innovation highway. Make “persistence pays!” your mantra, and it will guide you through to success.
3. Trusting Your Educated Gut
Where Insights Come From
Trusting your educated gut is exceedingly hard for some people and for many organizations. If you are in a company that lives and dies by market research numbers, it will be difficult to convince people that following your collective intuition is often a better way to achieve innovation. Yet your collective intuition is often a better way to achieve innovation. Yet time and again, I have seen this proven. And, the astronomically high failure rate of allegedly fully tested new products and services alone makes a strong statement about the ineffectiveness of basing everything on the numbers and ignoring what your educated gut says.
The good news is that going with your educated is habit forming. Once you you’ve had some success trusting the insights that come from your collective wisdom, it becomes easier to do it again. Making this cultural change may take awhile, but if you are persistent (there’s that word again), it can be done and greater success will follow.
4. A Willingness to Try Many Paths
There is No One Way
There is no one right ay to innovate and no one can provide you with a road map that is guaranteed to lead you to success. You must be willing to explore many paths and veer off on detours that your gut tells you might be interesting. Yes, detours can be time-consuming and you might waste some gas (and run into some dead ends), but remember that traveling only on interstate highways is generally mind numbing and rarely leads you through majestic scenery. Besides, that’s where everyone else is driving and the possibility of finding truly breakthrough ideas out in that heavy traffic is limited.
Just as I’ve advices you to fill your innovation portfolio with a variety of ideas ranging from incremental to breakthrough, I encourage you to be willing to venture off the beaten path in pursuit of those ideas. Visit other worlds (i.e. other industries) and snoop around in parts of your own organization where you don’t normally roam. I guarantee that down on of those paths you will come across something unexpected and extremely valuable.
5. Learning From Failure
Through the centuries, untold numbers of innovations have resulted from what initially appeared to be mistakes. If your organization has any hope of being innovative, it must accept mistakes and, equally important, learn from them. Leaders who insist that their people operate mistake-free have no business on the innovation highway—and, sooner or later, they will have no business at all.
Accept the wisdom of legendary jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman who is credited with developing atonal, free-form jazz. As Coleman put it, “it was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something.” Innovation is all about mistakes. You’ll get it wrong more often than you’ll get it right. But if you learn something from each wrong step and each dead end you eventually will get it right.
Above all, remember the advice of Miss Fizzle, the teacher of The Magic School Bus: “Take chances… get messy… make mistakes.”