I will make use of an entry that Google has on its website (“10 things that we know to be true”), to suggest a list of ten things that, from my experience, I am sure are not innovation but many people mistakenly consider as such.
1. Innovation is NOT just techy
No, it’s not just technological, no matter how easy it is to control and quantify this kind of innovation by institutions and organizations that manage its aids, grants, etc (here we could talk about innovation myopia).
Let’s continue with some illustrative examples of great non-technological innovations:
A roundabout is not a technological innovation, neither is it a sea container that merchant ships use for transport. Neither is Facebook, even if it uses a website platform on Internet. Nor is Chupa-Chups or the popular mop, both Spanish innovations.
We could go on indefinitely…
Seriously, there are more non-technological innovations than technological. And one should not confuse the advantage one can take to innovate using available and advanced technologies – such as Internet or smartphones – with being doing technological innovation directly.
2. Innovation is NOT just product related
Product is the most tangible, but innovation is given in many fields: service, business processes (manufacturing, technical assistance, sales, marketing, etc), organization or business model.
Starbucks coffee shops are innovative thanks to the experience they offer to their customers, not for the coffee or the food they sell.
Ikea is the kind of business model innovation because it changes many pieces of the puzzle that shapes the home furniture business: products with a Nordic design, for a fair price, clients that assemble the furniture they buy, stores with a fixed tour, etc.
The mobile car assembly line that made popular Ford, in the automotive industry, at the beginning of the 20th Century, is a clear type of organizational innovation. As it is the creation of the Red Cross in the 19th Century, after the battle of Solferino (1859) between Austrians, French and Piedmont inhabitants, to avoid leaving wounded soldiers bleed out in the battlefield, thanks to the help and collaboration of the volunteers.
3. Innovation is NOT just for big companies
It is a myth that only the big companies have the ability to innovate, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was invented by the same big companies – to avoid competition coming from below – or by the small ones in order to justify themselves.
On the contrary, many times big companies become so large and bureaucratic, that they find it faster and cheaper to buy startups and other companies that are innovating the sector they are interested in than trying innovation from within.
Smaller companies are more agile and flexible, features that facilitate the perspective and the attitude that favors innovation. For instance, reorienting and redirecting rapidly, according to changes in the environment. Or trying new creations in the market and learning fast what is happening, good or bad. As well as making new decisions, departing from what it’s known, almost immediately.
4. Innovation is NOT a person (or a department)
When in a company they appoint a person as responsible for innovation, we usually deal with what I call an “aid-seeker”, because, in most cases, she is looking for financial support from institutions that fits the company needs or is trying to take advantage of the projects the company is working on, that, of course, don’t necessarily need to be innovative, but “let’s see if it works” (I mean get the money).
We can say the same for a company department: there cannot be an innovation department and not to be innovative the rest as well. A company is innovative as a whole -or at least the majority- or it is not. Innovation requires the collaboration of many people from different areas and levels within the company, for both brainstorming and launching the projects.
It is more a cultural issue rather than operational.
5. Innovation is NOT doing something new in our company
Another common fallacy: saying we are innovating just because we are doing something new in OUR company. Are we really innovating just because we launched the company’s website, that we didn’t have yet, but many other competitors already have?
To innovate is to create something NEW in your industry that adds more value to the users. And ALSO new in an international context, because if it already exists in different countries, what we’re really doing is “importing innovation”.
If it is new but it doesn’t add higher value to the current alternatives, it will not work and therefore it’s not going to be an innovation. It will remain an invention, like the car with wings or Google Glass (for now).
6. Innovation is NOT inspiration
In terms of innovation, muses don’t work, neither the blank paper, but persistent and honest work do.
Continuous and extended work (in the sense of shared with many people) following a method, knowing what we’re doing and towards where we´re going. And especially, focused on the user, asking why he does what he does and observing how he does it.
Thomas A. Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, the phonograph and thousands of inventions (it is said that in his adult life he invented something every 15 days), already told us: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent of perspiration“.
7. Innovation is NOT expensive
This is another common excuse of small companies that believe innovation is creating a robot equipped with artificial intelligence and a processing capacity similar to IBM´s Watson computer.
We can easily visualize this thought: an army of expensive engineers on white robes, walking from one place to another through the hallway and the facilities of enormous, flawless and aseptic factories, full of computers and advanced technological equipment, with little lights and screens that produce a very slight rumor to be working at an amazing speed… Something that looks incredibly expensive and unavailable for the common SMEs.
This is an idealized innovation, I suppose thanks to James Bond, Mission Impossible and other similar movies.
However, to innovate is to create a relatively simple application that allows the user to call a taxi driven by an individual, request a quote, check how far is the driver and pay the fare using the smartphone (Uber). To innovate is also to reinvent the camping cooler for the 21st Century (Coolest Cooler), taking advantage of an innovative crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter.
Or to develop a social network of sport videos, where extreme sports practitioners can upload their own self-recorded videos and share them, as well as follow other friends and amateurs of the same sports (ProAddicts).
Innovation can (and must) be done without institutional aids or grants, although it is a good idea to take advantage of these if there are any available.
But it doesn’t need to be expensive, just like nowadays we understand that working with quality does not necessarily need to be: it is simply about doing things right, the first time.
8. Innovation is NOT just for creative people
Innovation is for everybody because we are all creative. Creativity is like a muscle: we all have it but it can be less or more developed, more or less atrophied, depending on how much we use it.
When we were children, we were all creative. What happened afterwards it’s on the education system.
Innovation, as stated before, is a team work: groups of people collaborating, not individuals or elites. It is not (just) for engineers or for the ones showing “creative” on their visiting card.
9. Innovation is NOT incremental
To innovate is to create something new, if not, that’s not innovation. When we don’t create something new we refer to something called improvement.
Sometimes I think that the term “incremental innovation” has been invented in order to justify the lack of real innovations from those who declare themselves as the most innovative.
From personal experience, when we chase something new, there are more possibilities to create and innovate because we don’t settle with the first idea as we are more demanding.
When we resign with working and evolving what we already have, we stay there, just improving. And that is also fundamental, however, we shouldn’t confuse it with innovation.
In fact, the best companies I know, as soon as they innovate, the next minute they are already improving that innovation, anticipating their competitors, what allows them to be always one step ahead.
10. Innovation is NOT an end in itself
In order for the innovation to be effective, it must be at the service of the company’s strategy that is what the company decides to do in the near future to achieve its goals. Not the other way around.
If we innovate as an end to itself, we can be innovating for our competitors, developing innovations that are not the most strategically interesting for us on the long run (won’t take us where we want) or assuming the ones for which we won’t have the right skills needed to develop or exploit them…
In these cases, we would be giving away ideas to our competitors that can be more qualified than us when taking advantage of them. Something that, without any doubt, will not leave us in a good position.
I finish here. I leave it in a decalogue because it is a nice rounded number; but I am sure that if we were to look more into it, we would find more assumptions about innovation that we know are NOT true.
If you want to share any, please feel free to do so. But above all, don’t let yourself be dissuaded by these topics and excuses that revolve around it.
Disclaimer:This post was published on December 27, 2015 in Spanish on the blog “Innovación con los 5 sentidos” by Javier Sastre on the following link