No standard behavior change, no innovation

“After this, the world will never be the same…” Those are the words a true innovator should say with complete conviction about their product or service because a world-changing outcome is what she/he sees in the future. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case on most occasions.

Most entrepreneurs I know aim to make money by taking advantage of a need. This is the most obvious path to “innovation”, but is satisfying an existing need innovative?

I don’t think so. It depends on the nature of the solution, but it also depends on ones perspective. Most solutions satisfy needs by optimizing an existing solution to give people what they want and achieve a predictable outcome for both; that means being responsive not innovative.

It is in “responsiveness” where a dilemma shows up as it usually means incremental improvements, not leaps.

Last week a couple of authors touched on the tension between optimizing ones business into irrelevance (responsiveness) and making leaps (innovation). First on the addiction to efficiency, Jeffrey Phillips wrote about the difference between continuous improvement and innovation, for all the talk about innovation inside large organizations the fact is that managers who demand innovation from employees are merely asking for increments (responsiveness) not leaps (innovativeness).

It isn’t a secret why that is the case, and it isn’t proprietary to one type of organization; it’s all.

Because incremental vs breakthrough is a constant topic of discussion, I wasn’t surprised to see my buddy Chad Lockart tweet back to me, what I also believe, his criteria for true innovation:

To me, for something to be innovate it must be new, surprising and radically useful. When something is truly innovative it creates new value and makes competition irrelevant; it changes the game. And, as stated in my response to Chad, a key criteria for true innovation is you don’t go back to the old ways; no backtracking. Everything else is just an optimization when that criteria isn’t met, not an innovation.

Think about it…

It was the 8th anniversary of the iPhone a few days ago. A device that truly changed our behavior in more ways than one. Since its launch, we’ve done away with physical keyboards on our phones, developed new symptoms and neck pains, became amateur photo and video graphers, became addicted to our smartphones not other people…the list of changes is long but the bottom line is our lives have been optimized in most every single way thanks to apps that were created for the iPhone.

Though the iPhone was not the first of its kind, it was the first to get it right. Not surprisingly, the new behaviors the iPhone unleashed are still being discovered to this day; 8 years later.

Why don’t more entrepreneurs and established businesses aim for game-changers?

Innovation is a mindset

Setting new standards is what innovators do, not merely following the herd because it’s convenient to do so. But breakthroughs are hard, innovations like the iPhone don’t happen often, and that may be a good reason most entrepreneurs and established businesses are not up to the challenge. But, they are worth trying to make happen for committed innovators who are more motivated about making a difference, rather than making a quick buck.

More specifically, I believe most entrepreneurs are fine with creating “Ok” solutions. Mere optimizations. Being responsive. Simply put, most people and businesses are ok with “ok”.

From a business standpoint, I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t be responsive and optimize existing business models. The challenge is understanding and becoming aware that business-as-usual, success, becomes a hindrance to creating the future, and it’s usually the result of conformity; doing things just a little bit better.

And a little bit better does NOT lead to behavior change.

Many consultants I know have called for a standardized definitions and concepts for innovation that all can adhere to, they say that would make it easier to “sell” innovation to organizations and employees. Frankly, I challenge them to make a larger leap and simply accept the truth: we all should all aim for higher standards for ourselves and our work; that takes a mindset shift.

Of course, mindset is fuzzy and there is no prescription for developing one. So, for un-innovative businesses the most practical thing to do is take some ideas, copy and paste them into the organization with the belief that if it worked for someone else then it will work for them. Truth is, that rarely happens as prescribed.

Innovation is a mindset. Copying tactics is easy, but copying or developing a mindset challenges your being. It alters your behavior at the belief level. That’s why not everyone can be a NAVY Seal, an astronaut, a top flight athlete, a world altering entrepreneur, etc..

As a general innovation rule, you can’t expect different results when you do more of the same activities. When true innovation happens innovative companies sustain a track record of success by creating the right ‘climate’ for employees to cultivate the innovation mindset — to think different, act different, and achieve extraordinary success.

It is that last part that is key as it isn’t enough just to think different; one must act different to leap beyond “Ok”. Both from an innovator’s and a consumer’s standpoint.

Bottom line: Ok-ness is the enemy of greatness. Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary.