Innovation is not a process of checking tasks off a checklist

While the rest of the world clamors on how we are settling into an entrepreneurial economy and how their respective countries are building entrepreneurial ecosystems, there are other non-entrepreneurial habits that come with the territory: charlatanism.

I’ve called attention to this before, and I keep bumping into the same thing over and over again. There are quite a few people out there who are masquerading as innovators/entrepreneurs. A lot of them are nothing more than promoters/commentators /observers who take some known frameworks and play a game of plug-and-play.

For example, I recently talked to a guy who is forming a consultancy with another group of people (one of which who works in a government funded venture fund) to help entrepreneurs plan and execute their startup. Their plan is simple: help entrepreneurs fill out the business model and value proposition canvas for free, and then ask them for %5 of the company if they go ahead and launch.

Yes, you read that right: help them fill out a template, and ask for 5% of company if they decide to launch.

I don’t know about you but I believe this is insane!

What is sad is that up and coming entrepreneurs that don’t know any better will find value in filling in a template that will supposedly put them on the right track. Interestingly, this guy came to me for mentor-ship after he heard me talk about innovation as a mindset, not a discipline with predefined methodologies that if followed to the T will end in celebration; much like what they want to do.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of template thinking. Filling out frameworks have value in that they can cut down complexity and help orient teams, but they do not fill people with courage. Sure, use tools to help you do stuff, but innovation is not a process of checking tasks off a checklist.

Likewise, it seems to me that the more we talk about innovation the more complex it becomes. I think it’s because of the ubiquity of frameworks and their respective stories of success from following them. More people are getting access to them, which creates the illusion that there are steps that can be followed to a nearly perfect ending.

By now, just about anybody can write a guide on how to use the business model and value proposition canvas, as well as how to do customer development. This is a both a good and bad sign. Good because it means people are trying things. Bad because it means people are becoming more efficient at following methodologies; which means best practice is setting in.

In my opinion, if frameworks work for someone it is mostly because of dumb luck, more that anything else.

Just like strategy is hard, innovation is messy; very messy. It doesn’t happen in a straight line, and is usually driven by someone with conviction. But most people don’t like doing the grunt work, they rather take a predetermined template and follow it to the T. Of course, the reason people and organizations find frameworks interesting is because it creates the illusion that they eliminate the serendipitous nature of innovation.

Which takes us to this basic truth, not myth: innovation is a result of discovery. And discovery is messy. If you don’t like messy, think about doing cubicle work.

Bottom line: Innovation is something that cannot be fully described, defined or forced. Innovation does not follow a timeline. It is something you’ll know when you see it. The true nature of innovation often upsets management, the bean counters, etc., because it cannot be controlled well. Innovation needs to be fully embraced, in all its messiness, if real progress is to be made.

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