Q: What are the most common mistakes companies make when they start a process to improve innovation?
A: “The No. 1 mistake is a lack of understanding about what innovation actually is. I define innovation as ‘something different that has impact.’ Note the definition doesn’t have the word ‘new’ in it. Innovation is different from invention or the creativity that precedes it. Sometimes the best way to innovate isn’t to invent but to reapply an idea that has been proven in another industry or market context.
Note too the last word: impact. Many companies perceive that improving their innovation success rate is all about coming up with the right ideas. They bring in creativity consultants, run idea hunts, hold brainstorming meetings, and create teams to license technologies from universities. These aren’t bad things to do, but remember the old line from Edison: ‘Genius is one percent inspiration, and 99 percent perspiration.’
Most companies are swimming in ideas. Those ideas might be locked up in their employees heads, or might have been shelved in the past because they were before their time, but they are there. The big problem isn’t generating ideas. It is translating those ideas into impact. . . . So, instead of trying to generate more ideas that will sit on a shelf or will get under-resourced and struggle, pick a few ideas that seem promising enough, put reasonable resources on them, and get busy attempting to grow them. Odds are that each of those ideas is wrong in some material way, but you only can learn that through experience. As one-time boxer and sometime actor Mike Tyson notes, ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ Take your punches and see what happens.”
— This Q&A is excerpted from an interview posted on the Innovation Excellence blog. The question comes from Evodio Kaltenecker, editor of the strategy blog Estratagia Para Todos (Strategy For All). The answer comes from Scott D. Anthony, managing partner of consulting firm Innosight. Anthony has advised senior leaders at Cisco Systems, Credit Suisse, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, LG, Procter & Gamble, and the Singapore Economic Development Board, among other organizations.
In a Harvard Business Review article, “The New Corporate Garage,” Anthony divides the history of innovation into four eras. He takes us back in time with lines like this: “With the perfection of the assembly line, a century ago, the increasing complexity and cost of innovation pushed it out of individuals’ reach, driving more company-led efforts. . . . Thus, the heroes of this second era worked in corporate labs, and corporations evolved from innovation exploiters into innovation creators. Many of the notable commercial inventions of the next 60 years came from these labs: DuPont’s miracle molecules (including nylon); Procter & Gamble’s Crest, Pampers, and Tide brands; the U-2 spy plane and SR-71 Blackbird fighter jet from Lockheed Martin’s famed Skunk Works.”