Imagine a high and distant peak, surrounded by waves of fog.
Mainly this is the innovation in the business environment: a high aspiration included on the list of values and in the mission statements of multiple companies, however, unfortunately, surrounded by the fogs of certain myths that make it inaccessible. The first step in the process of instigating innovation in ourselves and in the others is exactly represented by busting these myths.
Let’s start with three of them:
1. The myth of boundless creativity - and the reality: convergent thinking
When we talk about innovation, most of the people automatically think about creativity and imagine that to innovate means going deeper with creative abilities, and this is from where the disappointing comparison with creative artists or geniuses arises - since I am neither an artist, nor a creative genius, I cannot innovate either. In fact, creativity is just a part of the equation of the innovation. However, the essential part is the “why”, the challenge to which innovation answers. Innovation doesn’t only mean divergent thinking (What could we create today? What are our ideas?), but, in the same proportion, convergent thinking (What is the challenge for which we need to innovate? Where and why do we innovate?).
Convergent thinking is like a conductor’s stick which focuses the creative ideas, gives exactly those “edges” that creativity needs in order for it to be transformed into innovation. Not coincidentally, a lot of innovations that changed the lifestyle have happened during war times or recession (think about the metal cans or plastic surgery or even the microwave oven), especially because those periods were abundant in challenges, giving the mind a focus to orchestrate ideas.
When artists create, they simply express the inner world, with impulses and fantasies; when innovators create, they resolve challenges from the real world.
So, if you want to instigate to innovation, ask yourself: What is the current challenge? How can I formulate it more specifically? What was unexpected and what got us thinking?
2. The myth of the solitude of ideas - and the reality: “The liquid networks”
The historical anecdotes about big inventions made us associate innovative ideas with a moment of solitude and flashes, the “eureka” moment (Archimedes in the bath, Newton under the apple tree, where he had the revelation of gravity). And this is how the following myth developed: in order to be innovative, you need to be alone, to reflect, and then to protect your idea from the competition or the interferences that may denature it.
In fact, in an amazing and complex book about the environments that produce innovation (a book that the author had the courtesy to present in his TEDx speech “Where good ideas come from”), Steve Johnson shows that innovation is the product of certain “liquid networks”, meaning that it appears in environments in which people are in touch with different perspectives than theirs, have creative confrontations and debates and are mixing their ideas instead of “protecting” them. Instead of protecting our ideas, we need to create work environments without borders, in which the ideas circulate and transform freely.
Thus, go beyond the myth and ask yourself: How can you transform a solitary environment in one of the “silo” type in a “liquid network” environment? How can you obtain a mix of perspectives that stimulate innovation?
3. The myth of creative businesses - and the reality of “holy cows”
It is hard not to associate innovation with Apple and Steve Jobs or with renowned design or technology companies. From where the myth that innovation fits better certain businesses that afford it from the point of view of culture, strategy, resources. That it doesn’t work well with a more traditional business that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but, on the contrary, only makes the existing wheels turn more efficiently.
In fact, if we do not limit to the examples of transformative/breakthrough innovation, we will discover innovation in the most conservatory industries.
I was a month ago in a Qatar Airways plane and to my surprise, instead of the safety instructions that I wasn't going to follow, suddenly the stars of FC Barcelona popped up on my screen with a captivating analogy between the safety rules in football and the safety rules for the passengers of the aircraft.
And last week, at a baroque music concert (sounds pretty traditional, doesn’t it?), I was surprised to learn that the organizers reinvented completely the traditional model: the concert was a compilation of extremely different pieces, from ballet opera to Bach (it is hard to get bored), before every piece, the conductor was telling stories about the historical context (I found out that Louis XIV earned his name of “Sun King” because he interpreted the role of the sun setting in a ballet by Jean-Baptiste Lully), and on the screen behind it, cartoons were projected, describing the court life.
What do the two cases have in common? The power to reexamine the “holy cows” - meaning the axiomatic working methods in a business, the assumptions about “how things are done”, the undisputed written and unwritten rules. Any business has them, and the first step towards innovation is to bring them to the surface (exactly because these are holy, they became implied and we no longer acknowledge them) and question them, one by one: Why is it holy? What does it bring us? Is it worth to keep it? Is it worth to change it? Is it worth to eliminate it?
This examination of the holy cows is accessible in any business. And with a simple amendment of a single cow, the innovation is accessible in any business, being it “classical” or high-tech.
A challenge that focuses creativity. A liquid network for the mix of perspectives. A lucid examination of the holy cows. Any of them may be the catalyst that instigates to innovation.
What will you start with?