For innovators ignorance is an asset

Most every business that I’ve consulted for asks me a variation of the same question: how can we innovate?

Unfortunately, that’s the wrong question to ask. The correct question is: what’s currently stopping us from innovating?

The first question can take you to many places, and it won’t tell you why you aren’t innovating; the latter is a better place to start because you will bring to bear obstacles already in place.

Take a recent engagement I had recently, a month or so ago a health and fitness company engaged me to help them think about “what’s next” for them and develop the product and/or service that will address that. They had come up with some ideas of what they want to do, but when they presented those ideas to me my first thought was “every other businesses in this industry could do the same thing!”.

And that’s the problem, because their idea is based on “not playing to lose”; a reaction more than a leap ahead. When you leap ahead, your idea is grounded on a unique point of view; not on what everyone else is doing.

This is the challenge for non-innovators: embracing the unknown and seeing their ignorance as an asset rather than a liability.

With that said, a common innovation pitfall all aspiring innovators fall into is not grounding their ideas on unique insights, per Paul Hobcraft:

So what do customers really want from innovation? We never seem to complete enough research, or test enough validations. We tend to allow personal judgement or biases to creep in or even drive decisions. We fail to fully map the jobs-to-be-done or really look hard for the unmet needs as places where new innovation solutions can resolve. The promise of connecting into a social stream of engaged people, working their replies to your rapid prototypes, test pitches, rough designs, validation of concepts will rapidly shift insights into less insufficient and more into ‘too many’. Both have pitfalls.

I fully agree with Paul on this front: unique insights are found in the unknown, not in the mainstream.

For me, as stated previously, insights first, ideas second. It’s a core principle I live by, and as an aspiring innovator you should too. Why? Because ideas by themselves typically are of the more of the same variety or incremental improvements on existing ideas when there is no unique insight to be had.

Now, acquiring unique insight is hard because finding insight is about frameworks of recognition; how you choose to look, rather than trying to see. It’s probably a good reason why most businesses develop bad strategy and end up playing not to lose instead of aiming to win.

Simply put, when there is no unique point of view the default decision for most is to do whatever everyone else is doing.

To avoid this pitfall you need to shift your perspective and look further to “where you don’t know what you don’t know”; the place where the new stuff happens. This is where innovators thrive, all innovators embrace the unknown and are more likely to hang on and figure it out before giving up on the last try.

Bottom line: Perception separates the innovator from the imitator. Thus, to get new, surprising more radically useful ideas you need to shift your perspective to gain unique insight. You have to see your ignorance as an asset. Better an idea grounded on insight than one on “whatever everyone else is doing”.