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Don’t Be Afraid to Start Innovation

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Are you still talking about innovation, but not acting to make it happen?  It is striking to look at the large number of companies in which the volume of chatter about being bold and innovative is in stark contrast to the deafening silence of their actual achievements in building innovation as a value driving core competence.  Why is rhetoric-performance gap so large?

In many cases the problem is very simply that the designers, engineering, and knowledge workers tasked with making innovation happen are overwhelmed by the challenge of innovation and just don’t know where to start.  They fear that embarking on the journey of innovation is fraught with risk.  The reality is that inaction is more risky than innovation.

Here are five simple concepts to start on the road of innovation.

Start small
Many of us think of innovation as finding the next big thing.  But innovation happens on a continuum.  There are big “I” innovations, and there are small “I” innovations.  Going after the big “let’s create a new industry” type of innovation can be a bit daunting if you don’t already have some confidence in your ability to drive innovation.   So, start with smaller more attainable goals.  Most big successes start with more modest beginnings.  There is nothing wrong with incremental innovation.  These small steps general yield value and can help you develop your innovation framework.

Practice on every day issues
Practice makes perfect, and most of us have opportunities to apply innovation thinking more often than we realize.  Imagine you manufacture a product and you see a number of complaints from users stating that it’s inconvenient to adjust the pressure regulator.  You might decide to try and make it easier to adjust the pressure regulator.  But, what if the reason your users are complaining is that system requires constant readjustment of the regulator?  Maybe you would be better off not making adjustment easier, but making the system more stable so adjust wasn’t needed as frequently?  What if you made the pressure control self-adjusting so users didn’t have to think about it at all?  Why is pressure such a sensitive parameter of your system?  Maybe you can simplify your design so that pressure is no longer a critical operational parameter.  The point here is that even the simplest of issues contains innovation opportunities.  Explore them.  You will find this not only leads you to better solutions, but also helps you build facility with the tools and methods of innovation.

Use what you know
Most major organizations have accumulated a trove of institutional wisdom.  A common lament of these companies is “if we only knew what we know…”  What a shame it is that so much value goes unrealized as companies fail to implement the right systems to harness this intellectual capital.  Invest in design intent based knowledge retrieval technology today to help you understand the lessons of the past and visualize the future.

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Focus on value
Whether you are pursuing a big innovation or a small one, value is the end goal.  Innovation must deliver value to the customer and value to the company.  Make sure you always keep this in mind and measure your own efforts by this standard.  This will not only help you gain confidence in your innovation capabilities, but also leads into our next point.

Everybody likes a winner
Many practitioners feel it is an uphill battle to sell innovation in their organization.  They are right, because no one wants to buy innovation.  People are interested in the outcomes of innovation.  If you are consistently creating and delivering value for your customers and your company, you will attract support—strong support.  In my own tenure as an active innovator, I have never found it difficult to gain support for my projects because I have a track record of successful high value creation, and every project I pitch is framed in the context of the value to customers and the business.  I never talk innovation; I talk business and deliver through innovation.