Innovation begins in the heart

How diluted has the word innovation become that, on top of confusing it with anything new, we rationalize why we should innovate.

Here are a few:

  • Let’s innovate so we can grow our business, otherwise we won’t!;
  • Let’s innovate so we can eek out a little more revenue from existing products and services;
  • Let’s innovate so we can develop new revenue streams, new business, new products & services;
  • Let’s innovate so we can be competitive with the rest of the world;
  • etc..

I’m sure you’ve heard some version of these before, and there are more like these. The above rationalizations are correct, but does it get you fired up? I’m sure it doesn’t.

An indicator that all this rationalization it doesn’t work to spur action is how many people still ask themselves: what’s the point?

Why do you want to “innovate”? Seriously, think about it…

Is it because you’re embraced common rationalizations followed by everyone else who can’t think for themselves? If you are, it sounds to me like you are playing not to lose.

It’s emotion that leads to action, reason leads to conclusions

A few years ago Zappos framed their strategy as Delivering Happiness, and how they went about doing that called for a different playbook. A playbook that could only be conceived by a burning desire to do things differently. And in pursuing said strategy they changed the expectations people had  about buying online.

In doing so they set a standard, not just for an ecommerce company, but for any type of company. As a result, anybody who’s ever interacted with Zappos took those same expectations and wished every other business they interacted with would treat them the same way.

That’s a point!

On that path they became synonymous with an enthusiastic company culture that is obsessed with delivering excellent customer service, and afterwards were bought by the grand daddy of ecommerce, Amazon.

I don’t recall ever hearing Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh say something like “let’s innovate in customer service and leverage our culture to grow our business”. I bet you nobody would’ve ran through a wall for him after hearing that.

You know what else is also interesting about the Zappos story? No one has been able to replicate what they do.

There’s another point!

Where am I going with this?

Selling the value of innovation

Large companies talk about how they should start operating more like startups, they then bring in a Lean Startup expert to teach them how to embed those methods into their processes in hopes that doing so will yield some of that innovation magic.

But what is lost in this discussion is how they should also communicate and act like innovative upstarts. They want the tactics and tools, but are devoid of passion.

The first startup I joined was Tuni&G, and the reason I joined their crusade was because the founder talked about the products and what they meant with a passion that resonated with me. I remember telling her in that moment: How can I help you?

There was no rationalization on my part, even though I’m a very rational person. Oh, and the products were baby clothes!

A good litmus test to see if people are sold on an innovative idea is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many of your employees have come up to you and offered their help after you delivered a presentation?
  • How many volunteer their time without thinking if they are going to get paid and rewarded with a promotion?
  • If you ask your employees if they are inspired about the work they are doing, are you confident they will enthusiastically say yes?
  • If you ask your employees if they are inspired by you, are you confident they will enthusiastically say yes?

There’s much to reflect on…

Bottom line: Innovation, doing new things that matter to people, is the only way to create new value. And like Zappos, the most innovative companies in the world, even the ones that are less talked about, are driven by opinions; by intent.

Opinions about how things could be epically better and different.

What do these opinions deliver for those companies? Better outcomes, local/world impact, strong and exciting culture that attracts talent, loyal customers and partners.

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