What is Innovation and why is it so hard?

What is Innovation?

In this Forbes article, Innovation is defined as “a ‘big new’ for your business or a ‘big difference’ in how you operate your business”.  Innovation exists along a continuum which extends from “material improvements to existing products or processes all the way to the rare ‘disruptive innovation’.”

How does it occur – through “ideation, exploration and experimentation.  Innovation occurs when we “create something with customers or when we create new value by combining seemingly unrelated things or ideas in new ways, transferring something from one environment to another, or finding new insights in patterns or aberrations.”

Innovation does not come naturally.  We are “blind to challenging ideas”.  We don’t want to see them. Thinking differently is also “hard emotionally”.  That is because we are programmed to use “the 3Ds – deny, defend and deflect”.  Fear is one of the biggest barriers to innovation, particularly fear of failure.  This fear is developed and rewarded in the work place and in education.  We are programmed to think that failure is not smart, but “being smart is knowing what you don’t know, prioritising what you need to know and finding best evidence-based answers”.

Progressive organisations “simultaneously tolerate mistakes” while insisting “on operational excellence”.  Failures are viewed in such organisations as “learning opportunities”.  Failure helps to develop humility, which is necessary for empathy – “a critical skill in user-centric innovation”

Within an organisation, innovation requires “idea meritocracy” where the “best evidence-based ideas win”.  It also requires a new culture in which there is “humility, empathy and a devaluation of hierarchical rank”.

In summary, innovation is difficult because it can only thrive in an innovation conducive environment.  The first difficulty is to devise an environmental model suitable for the organisation, The second is introducing the model.

Conor Foley

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