New ideas are necessary, but not sufficient for innovation

It’s not the idea, it’s what you do with it. Design an organization that is both competent at generating and executing effective ideas.

For all the research and literature that exists about innovation, ideas still take up the vast majority of the attention as the leading factor behind successful innovations. Because ideas are the sexy part of innovation, many believe that a novel idea is an innovation itself; it is not. More importantly, just because something is novel doesn’t mean it will win in the marketplace.

Do ideas matter?

I believe they do matter, but what matters more is developing a distinct point of view and then executing that vision; not simply copy and pasting what others have done.

In brainstorming sessions I still hear people rationalize the validity of an idea by saying “nobody has ever done something like this so we must be onto something”. This is flawed thinking because most anyone thinks the same way and will most likely act the same way. An idea that is accepted because of the rationalization usually, if executed, is followed by copycats who don’t know any better.

For large organizations, and also startups, that follow the “better-than-nothing strategy” it matters coming up with new ideas since they’ve put themselves in a position where they are “competers” not “innovators”. For innovative companies though, coming up with ideas isn’t the problem, rather it is selecting which ones to pursue and then executing them.

There are endless stories of companies that came up with the original ideas (inventors) but where not the innovators (implementers). For example, Apple is still considered the most innovative company in the world yet they were never the “first” to market. Apple did not really invent much — there were mobile phones and MP3 players (Apple’s iPod was the 11th MP3 player) long before the iPod and iPhone — what made Apple brilliant was their ability to improve on the current offerings to meet unmet market demands. That is innovation at its finest; a redefinition.

Again, on top of having a distinct point of view of how things should be, what truly makes Apple and all innovators unique is their ability to execute that vision; this means having focus and discipline.

What also matters?

Long term, a few more things matter:

  • An organization’s willingness and ability to experiment with ideas across different areas of a business; not just product and service.
  • Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.

The last point is probably the most important one of all because a great team can take a mediocre idea and make it great. But a mediocre team cannot take a mediocre idea and make it great. Think about that…

Bottom line: Beyond ideas, implementation matters as well as having a distinct point of view. As I’ve stated before, the biggest innovation challenge for large organizations is their ability to generate new insights for the future while also keeping their eyes on the present.