First, have a great idea.
Go on, I’ll wait.
Next, make it happen. And, once that’s done, just make sure you work out how to commercialise it somehow.
Innovation’s never simple, even at the best of times. Moving from the big idea to making it happen is full of those horribly detailed problems that need solving, even if they’re not always obvious. Out of everything that doesn’t happen but should, there’s one thing that sucks the life out of ingenuity more than anything else.
Before you can innovate, you first need to work out what the heck it is you’re trying to do. Making things better only happens when everyone first agrees what “better” means.
It’s a tricky word. Sometimes, it’s managing the presence of something you need to fear. Other times, it’s the absence of something you should be terrified of. Monsters come from the most unlikely of places. Inside this space lurks your innovation vampire.
Seems goofy, right? Left alone though, it’ll eat the core out of your ability to innovate. Like their namesake, innovation vampires slowly drain the life out of your business. They absorb creativity, cloud your mind, and if left long enough, eventually kill you.
They’re also extremely good at hiding in plain sight. Even though they’re easy to see if you decide to look for them, you first need to recognise you might have an even bigger problem than you originally thought. It might not be your ability to be creative. It might just be that your problems are starting a little closer to home.
When people can’t agree on what’s important, you prevent innovation. When people can’t hold the course, you prevent commercialisation. Without both of these, you stagnate. The worst thing is that you’ll only find these problems if you actively look for them. We’re dangerously good at self-delusion. Think on this - what’s the gap between your organisation’s:
- Stated values and actual behaviour? Everyone wants to be customer-centric. When there’s a problem, what do people do? Do they actually represent your stated values or do they still practice the behaviours you’re trying to discourage?
- Intent and execution? The best-laid plans rarely survive first contact with the enemy. When your troops are faced with an unexpected roadblock, how do they behave? Do they mirror your mission statement or do they compromise?
Talk is cheap. Change is hard. Facing this beast head-on isn’t fun - it takes some serious self-reflection and often ends in disruption from the top down. It’s also not an easy fix; it starts and ends with culture.
But, I’m sure you already know all this. And, everything’s under control, right? So, for everyone who thinks that they don’t have any problems with an innovative vampire, here’s one last test. Seeing as you’re reading this, it’s a fair assumption that you’re probably fairly familiar with using data to make better decisions. In fact, you’re probably a big champion for data-driven decision-making.
Now, ask yourself this: every day, how many of your decisions are based on data rather than what’s in your gut? Do you walk the path you promote? Or, do you unconsciously show the behaviours that you’re trying to eliminate?
Culture starts with you. It’s a small thing, but it’s the small things that eventually have a big impact.
Evan Stubbs is the author of several SAS books including his latest title, "Big Data, Big Innovation."
photo by Joriel “Joz” Jimenez //attribution by creative commons.