The three myths of innovation that could be holding back your company
Andy Stefanovich and Josh Epperson
The word, innovation, is so over used that it’s almost lost all meaning. Yet, as with all aspects of business, innovation evolves. Innovation will remain the process by which newness comes into the world, but the how of innovation is in flux. New business landscapes, new technologies, and the wearing out of old models require us to reimage how we innovate.
When we think of innovation we might think of Silicon Valley, Google, Apple, and schools like Stanford University. We might imagine brilliance being created everyday in these places, and the fumes of great ideas spewing out the windows of well designed buildings. And in fact, these are accurate portrayals of what innovation can look like. But it’s not the full story. Many businesses have misaligned views on how to achieve innovation. Employee motivation and collaboration is essential to innovate, but often businesses lack authenticity in these efforts. Keeping up with what’s current gives you a read on what’s in vogue, yet you don’t need to follow the entire world on Twitter to change your business. Culture is important; however you don’t need to have an office full of free thinkers to come up with something new. And you certainly don’t need a Mac to think differently.
There are a lot of beliefs that pervade the world of innovation. However, many of these beliefs have the potential to hold us back. Some of these beliefs are, in fact, myths: great stories that fail the test of reality. If we’re not careful, these myths of innovation can become barriers to our growth.
The following beliefs need changing, less we fail to make the changes to which we aspire.
1) Innovation parallels inspiration
We often hear that to achieve innovation we must inject inspiration into our organizations. This could be through employee praise, a trip out of the office, or a work time happy hour. This “injection” of inspiration is like a cattle prod of motivation; a way >to briefly energize a hard working team. We can imagine this type of inspiration existing parallel to us on our road to innovation, glance to your right and there it is ready to give you an encouraging smack just when you start to feel drained. As inspiration travels alongside us, we use it when most useful. We consume inspiration like an energy drink. It’s not a regular part of our day, but when we really need that boost we’ll grab a Red Bull in a hurry.
While it’s important to keep inspiration parallel to our innovation efforts, we can’t stop there. Inspiration must be more than your partner in crime; it must be your conjoined twin. To innovate, you have to encourage people to think differently about their impact. However, simply saying “you’re having an impact” is not enough. It’s good. It’s a start. But it’s not enough. We have to build structures to constantly provide inspiration.
This type of persistent inspiration is easier than you think. With so many ways to communicate within our businesses we can make small steps towards changing our ways. Make inspiration a daily mention. Be it through internal emails, posts to social media, or building the word into daily interactions, we can let inspiration seep into the culture very easily. Switch the channels on those TVs playing CNN in your front office. Try Cartoon Network. Or maybe your favorite James Bond flick? “Inject” a “How Might We” approach into your problem solving. Find opportunities to truly celebrate the work of others. Whatever your solution, you must make inspiration much more than parallel to your efforts. You must make it the life blood of every work day.
2) Innovation is inhaling
To stay current you’ve got to stay tapped in. Whether it’s through social media, industry magazines, or “word on the street,” most businesses would be lost if they weren’t consuming the latest news and views of their industry. Innovation requires us to know the current state of things. Miss too much and your ideas might fall behind. Remember Kodak. Staying up on things is important. However, many of us inhale information as if we were starved of it. We’ve developed an anxiety that we’ll miss the most cutting edge information the moment it hits our Twitter feed. If innovation is creating newness, we have to know everything that’s new, right?
Wrong. Inhaling is great, but only in that it leads to an exhale. Consuming all the information we’re exposed to can be crippling. If we pay too close attention to everything available to us, we become reactionary; we never give ourselves the chance to focus on what sets us apart. To make an impression, to be the business you aspire to be, you have to exhale. You have to innovate through narrowing down the number of things you’re paying attention to, and let your situation, your business, and your perspective guide where you’re going. In the release of the exhale you find a moment to engage around your core values. Once connected with your values, you reengage with your unique perspective. To move towards an exhale, begin to narrow down how much information you’re consuming. Find your two or three trusted sources of content and stick with only those for the next two weeks. Take ten minutes every day to stop what you’re doing and remember the values of your organization. Take ten minutes, look up, and exhale. Innovative ideas love the room to breathe.
3) Innovation is a Swedish coffee table
The spaces with which we surround ourselves have a significant impact on how we work. The Googles and Apples of the world developed environments that helped them achieve a mindset that aligned with their values. Indeed, they are sexy businesses. The collaborative work spaces, the ping pong tables, and the epic floor to ceiling windows do inspire the imagination. Yet, the lessons we learn as children are becoming much more relevant as Scandinavian design and open offices have become the epitome of innovation.
Why should we believe that all innovation looks the same? Do all businessmen and women look the same? Do all products and services look the same? Of course not. Therefore change and newness in any company should never look exactly like any other. We have convinced ourselves that innovation is the production of young hip entrepreneurs that do their best work with heels on the desk relaxing in an Eames recliner. In reality, it’s about authenticity. It’s about capturing the personality you’ve always represented in your company. Through this, you begin to define your unique innovation identity. That’s what sets you apart. It’s through embracing what makes us different that truly leads to innovation. You don’t need to look like Google to have a great idea. Look like you. Be original. In the end, why would you want to be like everyone else?
If we fail to purge ourselves of these myths we risk some detrimental results. In the worst case scenario, we become uninspired vacuums of information unconvinced of our value in the market. In the best case, we stay the same; never challenging ourselves to push things in more inspired ways, constantly consuming every bit of information to the point of reactionary stasis, and locking out the great ideas because they weren’t conceived over the office billiard table. As uncomfortable as it may seem, the path to growth and success is through innovation. The path to innovation is paved with an inspired approach, room to breathe, and multiple perspectives.
In such a quickly changing world, our models of business need to be continuously re-imagined. Accepting the status quo is a sure fire way to go unnoticed. Take your business, company and brand to its rightful place in the world. Get inspired. Take a breath. Embrace what makes you different.
About the authors:
Andy Stefanovich, Chief Curator & Provocateur, Prophet
Josh Epperson, Creative Associate, Prophet
Prophet is a strategic brand and marketing consultancy with offices around the world including Zurich, Berlin and London. It helps leading businesses better leverage their brands and marketing to grow and transform their business.