Monday, May 23, 2011

What do innovators know that you don't?

From the outside, looking in at innovative firms, it seems that the innovators must be fantastically insightful, smart and rapid responders.  After all, innovation requires that someone or some team spot a great new opportunity, create a product or service to fill the gap, and arrive in the market with the solution before anyone else, yet not too early.  What is it that good innovators know that you don't?

Perhaps it's easier to answer this question by examining what they've learned. 

First, they've learned that interesting, valuable innovation comes from cues and signals on the adjacency of their markets or businesses.  Good innovators combine ideas from the edges of their markets and industries, introducing new ideas and new concepts. 

Second, they've learned that a lot of ideas that seem very valuable are often misguided or just plain wrong.  What they've learned from those experiences is that one "mistake" is never fatal, just a learning experience to be incorporated later.

Third, they've learned that innovation is not a "utility" like water from the tap or electricity at the switch.  It cannot be simply "turned on" when required and "turned off" when the firm has enough innovation.  It either runs, and runs consistently and well, or doesn't run at all.

Fourth, they've learned that they need to learn about innovation.  Innovation has a body of knowledge, a wide range of tools and embedded skills.  Even good innovators know that they must constantly learn more about innovation in order to be successful.

Fifth, innovators have learned that the most important gap between ideas and new products and services is the transition between an "idea" and a prioritized product or service development project.  Sponsorship of good ideas, the focus that enables a good idea to become a prioritized project in product or service development, matters perhaps more than any other factor.

Finally, good innovators have learned that complacency is a death sentence.  The global economy is accelerating, customer demands are shifting and firms in any geography can compete anywhere.  What we used to think of as paranoia is now a reality. 

What do good innovators know that you don't?  They know that innovation is not a discrete, one-time, on and off effort, but something that everyone needs to work on all the time, accepting failures, learning more all the time.  Those folks aren't any smarter, or more insightful or gifted.  Often, they've just stuck with it longer, persevered through the same kind of resistance you'll find in less-innovative firms.  And through it all they've developed a "muscle memory" for innovation you can't get by trying once.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:03 AM


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