“Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum” and it doesn’t happen by accident either.
Most innovation results from an orderly process designed to overcome long-standing problems. Typically some entrepreneur decides to ‘tackle’ what otherwise might seem impossible to others. While the idea may start with a single person, the most innovative efforts are usually refined by groups of talented individuals working as teams. It takes a lot of work to produce the ‘next best thing’. Rogier van der Heide’s quote actually reads, “Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You’re never alone. No one has the key just by himself.”
So my first question is, “are you on a team”, or are you ‘on your own’ in your innovations?
For years the running joke was about the man who could ‘build a better mouse trap’. I always thought that to be funny because most of the time I saw mouse traps that had been put out that hadn’t done the job they were designed for. Of course, sooner or later, one of the mouse traps worked, but my point is that if the ‘mouse trap’ was such a great design, why didn’t it work the first time, every time? Today we have ‘innovative’ mouse-trap designs, thought to be ‘less cruel’ to the animal. In reality they are probably more cruel because they trap rather than swiftly kill the mouse, but more importantly they don’t ‘give up the cheese’ the way that the older designed traps did so much of the time. I wonder just how many mice are starving with the new designs as opposed to the older ‘snap trap’. Still the same someone at least thought they had a better way, an innovation in the ‘mouse trap.’
So my second question is, “do you amplify worthy ideas”, or do you take the stand that “there is no such thing as a better mouse trap”?
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The apostle Paul in (Romans 5:3) wrote, "And not only that, but let us exult while in tribulations, since we know that tribulation produces endurance". Innovation doesn’t come without trial and error, and tribulation. As such you must develop processes to ensure that you learn from failures as well as successes. Accordingly you must be ready to meaningfully measure impact, establish quantitative measures that will guide the final solution.
As a part of this you must measure the ‘if you should’ against the ‘if you can’. Not every innovation is always for the better. Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park says this best, “you were so busy seeing ‘if you could’ you didn’t stop to think ‘if you should’!” Case in point, in 1985 Coca-Cola introduced ‘New Coke’, replacing its long-standing original coke formula; executives and marketers alike thought it was ‘time’ for an innovation in the soft drink. The result was a disaster, loyal Coca-Cola fans screamed, shouted, boycotted, and after just a few months the original recipe was back on the market.
So my third and final question is, “are you learning from your mistakes” and working toward an innovation that ‘you should’, rather than attempt to simply see if you can produce something innovative?
It doesn’t matter what your small business, leadership role, or position is, we all need an innovative spirit in what we do. Whether you are a manufacturer trying to build the ‘next best’, or a QuickBooks ProAdvisor attempting to provide ‘the most innovative level of service possible to your clients’, we all should strive to make innovation a reality in the “high calling of our daily work1.”
1 – the “high calling of our daily work” is the catch phrase of The High Calling, the Laity Lodge and the H.E. Butt Family Foundation, 719 Earl Garrett Street, Kerrville, TX 78028.