Deadly innovation sin: Believing process will save you

Inside established organization innovation is killed before it even gets a chance to make its case. The reasons are many, and while there are many Sins of innovation,from my POV the one that kills most projects focused on transformational outcomes are ones where there needs to be a fixed “process” for achieving those outcomes.

These “processes” are sold by top flight consultancies; not entrepreneurs who’ve actually done shit without the help of consultancies. Many leading consultancies tout their very own innovation process, with the newest trends being design thinking and lean startup; or a combination of both.

As a leader, believing a process will save you is irresponsible; especially one aimed at creating new possibilities where failure is a sure thing.

The truth is this: you can’t buy your way to an innovation strategy.

Nor can you go ask an entrepreneur for advice on how he/she did it so you copy and paste that. Nope. Context is different, most advice doesn’t apply to new contexts. If you are seriously changing the game, you are starting from an unexpected angle which requires a completely different approach to achieve an outcome; you must figure it out.

It’s why true innovative leaders understand that whatever worked for someone else will most likely not work for them. They understand that they have a blank slate and have to figure out a way to achieve their goals.

True innovators don’t fall prey to stories of success; they make their own story.

As the former wife of Elon Musk recently said:

Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. Ask yourself what you have the potential to offer that is so unique and compelling and helpful that no computer could replace you, no one could outsource you, no one could steal your product and make it better and then club you into oblivion (not literally). Then develop that potential. Choose one thing and become a master of it.  Choose a second thing and become a master of that.  When you become a master of two worlds (say, engineering and business), you can bring them together in a way that will a) introduce hot ideas to each other, so they can have idea sex and make idea babies that no one has seen before and b) create a competitive advantage because you can move between worlds, speak both languages, connect the tribes, mash the elements to spark fresh creative insight until you wake up with the epiphany that changes your life.

The world doesn’t throw a billion dollars at a person because the person wants it or works so hard they feel they deserve it. (The world does not care what you want or deserve.)  The world gives you money in exchange for something it perceives to be of equal or greater value: something that transforms an aspect of the culture, reworks a familiar story or introduces a new one, alters the way people think about the category and make use of it in daily life. There is no roadmap, no blueprint for this; a lot of people will give you a lot of advice, and most of it will be bad, and a lot of it will be good and sound but you’ll have to figure out how it doesn’t apply to you because you’re coming from an unexpected angle. And you’ll be doing it alone, until you develop the charisma and credibility to attract the talent you need to come with you.

Have courage. (You will need it.)


This is what true innovators understand: New possibilities have no established prescriptions; they must be discovered.

An unexpected angle is a new perspective, not the same point of view others are approaching something. Therefore, they figure out a way to cross the chasm of uncertainty. That takes courage; not a process.