Innovation is The Opposite of What We’re Pretending The Word Means

Innovation is really hard

Every once in a while someone says or writes something that is worth sharing. I want to introduce you to Tom Goodwin, who wrote a great piece called Why you probably don’t want innovation.

His point is that everyone wants innovation without knowing what it means; which I agree with. Most of the stuff you read, listen and watch is mostly innovation theatre: just a bunch of fluffy activities that have no impact.

The culprit?

People busy just acting the part but not really doing “what it takes”.

For example, nowadays it seems that any company that starts practicing some methodology is automatically considered innovative. Not true. While just about everyone who follows the desing thinking and lean startup template to a T claims to be an innovation expert, to those people I ask the following: where are your battle scars? Tell me your stories?

These people claim that innovation is a process, the positioning is key because it makes it buyable. Template thinking makes innovation buyable because large, scared of the unknown, enterprises love their processes; and so do people. But templates are a means to an end; not what should be celebrated and bought.

Remeber, an idea becomes an “innovation” until it is adopted by a market. Which leads to the truth: Innovation is an outcome of a process; a much better outcome at that.

And that process, whether you like it or not, does not function in a straight line; it’s messy. And the evidence of that messiness is rarely talked about. With that said, here’s what I think is the best part of Tom’s post and what it all comes down to and what separaes the innovators from the imitators:

Innovation is the opposite of what we’re pretending the word means

  • Innovation really happens by people that give so much of a shit they get fired in many places.
  • Change happens because ideas compel odd people to take risks because they believe in it.
  • Innovation is people having massive arguments.
  • It’s pissing off most people. It’s going against policies. It’s being a huge pain but with the most pure of intentions, that will be misunderstood.
  • True innovation will be questioned. “Who are they to care so much?” The remarks will include, “Chill out, this is awkward, you’re irritating everyone.”

Amen to this! It’s the part that rarely gets any attention because you’re challenging people, getting out of your comfort zone, it’s not all kumbaya. Really, it isn’t. You have to care a lot about the outcome you are pursuing, otherwise you are not cut out for this and don’t want innovation.

This is why culture is so important for innovation, you can’t fake it. People’s intellectual and emotional fortitudes will be tested in an ideal innovation culture; and they look forward to that. These people are filled with people who distort reality, who are deeply motivated to create new worlds because the status quo just isn’t that great.

Bottom line: You can determine whether or not a business has innovation potential by the way it leads and its priorities. Processes don’t determine your innovation potential; your attitude and perspective does. 

Also published on Medium.