The play instinct is something that everyone is born with. From a young age we want to explore, create, and have fun. However, some people become very good at honing this skill, at playing and fiddling so creatively that they develop revolutionary technologies. Sometimes these discoveries can come later in life, but many times it is younger individuals, who have held onto their playful spirit, who innovate in extraordinary ways and in the process, play a role in inventing the future.
Innovation is what drives the world forward. It is what heals illnesses, protects individuals from danger, and makes life easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. However, innovation does not just happen. It takes a catalyst, and one of the most robust catalysts for innovation is design. It moves an idea smoothly along its journey from a simple insight to a tangible, marketable product or service. Design provides the focus and structure that innovation so badly needs.
The utilization of big data is the future. The companies that are embracing this are the ones that are thriving and creating truly game-changing innovations. In fact, 65 percent of the top innovators are either using social networks or big data to mine for ideas. Apple, Tesla, Netflix, Google, and more all know that it’s their consumers, unwittingly through their data, who will give them the next earth-shattering innovation. And because they know this and indulge it, they consistently stay at the top of their industries.
It is no longer enough for a business to lean on their core competencies, making incremental improvements to maintain an edge on the competition. In order to be a true leader in any industry, a business must focus on creating killer innovations.
Innovation can sometimes seem totally intangible. It’s easy enough to come up with an idea that you believe will change the world, or at least your industry. It is putting that idea into action that becomes another ballgame. Developing a real product or service that can be sold or put into practice is a daunting task.
Businesses that would like to lead their industry don’t just need any goal, they need a Big Hairy Audacious Goal—a BHAG. To create this type of goal, though, a company needs to abide by a few rules.
Hubbard proved to the world that setting a seemingly insurmountable goal is the way you achieve greatness. In today’s world, companies achieve innovation in a similar way. It is called the Law of the BHAG. By setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, organizations are able to provide their workforce with a singular vision and passion, one that gets the wheels of innovation turning.
We’ve seen that, all too often, people in business equate patience with negligence. In their minds, patience is the opposite of what’s needed to make big things happen. They expect innovation and progress to happen on schedule. But as Leo Tolstoy explained long ago, patience in innovation does not mean doing nothing. All it means is giving your team the time they need to produce results—and sometimes that means giving them a lot of time.
In a world of on-demand everything and overnight shipping, we’ve all but forgotten what it means to be patient. We’re so used to having the world at our fingertips that it’s hard to imagine, or even tolerate, waiting very long for anything. And unfortunately, we don’t check this attitude at the door when we walk into the office; most people don’t look at innovation and think, “Let’s just give this some time.” Like our Amazon packages and Netflix shows, we want them fast. We want innovation right now.
If you want to build a company that is a leader of innovation, creativity, and change within your industry, you need to have the proper resources to power it. Money, people, equipment, and time are all critical parts of the innovation cycle. Without them, you will never learn what your business is capable of doing: creating sweeping changes across your industry, making your business flow more smoothly, or simply offering advantages to your customers that you never dreamed possible.
In order to achieve this innovation—to start creating ideas, processes, services, and products that are forward-thinking and unique—companies need to make permanent allocations of money, people, time, and equipment that are dedicated to the sole mission of innovating.
Any expert on the driving forces behind organizational innovation will tell you that leadership is one of the most important. In fact, I’ve discovered it to be one of the 7 Immutable Laws of Innovation, and a necessity for any institution looking to prioritize leadership.
It’s times of stress that really test the strength or weakness of your organization. During stressful times, you learn what the people in your organization are made of—but also whether the systems, functions, and processes you’ve put in place are able to withstand the crises that inevitably come your way. Industry shifts, market downturns, unexpected competitors: when stress comes, it shouldn’t make your organization or process fall to pieces. Instead, stressful times should be when positive discourse, growth, and resiliency thrive.
There’s plenty of advice out there about how to make it in Silicon Valley. Some things are required for innovation success anywhere in the world, but the valley is a special place with different rules. As someone who’s spent a lot of time there, I think there are a few important elements to Silicon Valley’s success that others should know about if they’re trying to bring their ideas to life there.
While many CEOs have excellent intentions of inspiring their employees to be innovative and creative, putting those intentions into practice takes hard work and truly active leadership. By definition, the CEO has to concern himself with high-level executive functions at the company he’s running. He can’t be involved in every detail of every project in every department, nor should he be. But too often, this position keeps the CEO totally out of the loop of internal communication, and the places in the company where innovation is or should be happening.
Success in innovation isn’t going to happen overnight, nor does it happen as a matter of chance. There’s nothing preordained about successful innovation. There are a number of factors that can contribute to the ultimate success or failure of your latest idea, but the basic formula that I’ve learned over the years is: success = idea + hard work + timing + luck.
No matter what profession you’re in, it’s important that you’re able to think creatively and look at your work with fresh eyes every day. Unfortunately, however, it may feel like a challenge to constantly be at the top of your game. The common question I get is “what exercises do you perform to keep your creative muscle in top shape?”. Here are the set of daily warm-up exercises I do to keep my creativity in top form.
When you’re aimlessly browsing the internet, staring out your window, or wandering around the office, what are you thinking about? You might not even be able to put your finger on it, but chances are, when your hands and eyes are engaged in an activity that doesn’t require the full investment of your brain, you’re turning over something else in the back of your mind.
It’s really astounding how many people I meet who tell me, “I’m not creative” or “I wasn’t born an innovator.” How many times have you told yourself this story? No matter how convinced you may be that you are not creative or you were not meant to change the world, I believe that EVERYONE is a born innovator! The simple fact that you have grown up and learned how to be an adult in this world means you have already gone through a process of continual innovation – and creating something totally new is often a matter of recapturing that mindset.
Crippled by knowledge and information, we too often live in a tomb of disenchantment. Too serious to dance in the rain, too cautious to build sandcastles by the sea, we are frozen by our own experience, expertise and fear. The art of innovation and of staying beginners is to empty our cups again and again, to remain childlike and playful with eyes always open and fresh.
Creativity is usually associated with open spaces, uninhibited freedom, and a lack of anything to stifle expression. However, sometimes it can be beneficial, even essential, to build walls, make rules and impose constraints on ourselves in order to get our creativity flowing.
The fact is that unlimited options are very difficult to contend with – they keep us staring at the proverbial blank page. Our minds need some guidance; if there are no rules or restrictions in place, it’s hard to begin the creative process and even more difficult to remain focused or purposeful.
If you look up the Merriam-Webster’s definition, it says that innovation is “the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.” However, in a world of continuous technological and ideological advancement, how much is really new? The truth is we are creative beings, but we don’t create alone. While some will try to make the claim of being the sole creator of an innovation, the majority of our ideas are inspired by things and processes already in existence.
This is true of one of history’s most important innovations: Henry Ford’s creation of the assembly line. This innovation has changed countless industries by altering the universal production process and it came from an unlikely source.
From my perspective, the focus on “test scores” results is a system that generates the worlds greatest test takers — where success is defined by memorization of facts and formulas. Graduates that memorize yesterdays’ answers using yesterdays technologies will not be the workforce for tomorrow’s innovation economy. I didn’t want what the education system was producing. I need an organization staffed by highly innovative individuals who will have the skills to solve problems we don’t even know exit using technologies that haven’t been invented yet.
It might happen while you’re taking your morning shower, or maybe you’re in the middle of your morning commute when a flash of creativity strikes: a great idea for a mobile app, a way to hack your Ikea bookshelf to solve a pressing storage problem or a brand new business idea. Why does it seem like our best ideas come when we are doing absolutely nothing?
Companies depend on the ability to innovate in order to remain competitive. Traditionally, we consider innovation to involve fun and creativity. However, innovation can be hard work requiring both a willingness and an ability to generate ideas.
In a July 2010 TED Talk, Johnson describes important breakthrough ideas as networks that patch together slowly, sometimes lingering in the backs of minds for decades until the right intersection of circumstances reveals them. Johnson suggests connection and collaboration produce the right intersection of circumstance.
In his research, Johnson examined environments, looking for patterns common among places where great innovations were developed. What kind of setting would best serve a slow fading-in of important ideas? In his studies, he found that a certain amount of chaos was common to several birthplaces of great ideas. Specifically, when multiple minds gathered and volleyed ideas back and forth, the stage was set for breakthroughs.
In the last few years, brainstorming has been shot down, put down, and dismissed. Why?
Since 1941, when Alex Osborn changed the culture of advertising with innovative, nonjudgmental thought-generating, brainstorming has been a major part of business. Osborn described brainstorming as “a conference technique by which a group attempts to find a solution for a specific problem by amassing all the ideas spontaneously by its members.” He included specific rules including:
- No criticism of ideas
- Go for large quantities of ideas
- Build on each others ideas
- Encourage wild and exaggerated ideas
During a recent meeting where team members provide updates on their innovation projects, one of the project leads pushed back when I challenged the team to “go faster”. So what should you do when you feel your patience is waning on a project?
When we loose our patience, we exhibit worry and anger. If we are the boss, we have a tendency to want to jump in to the project and start micromanaging. Innovation takes longer than you expect. Get used to it.
Is innovation failure a contradiction? Innovation leaders and analysts say no. Venture Capitalist and Forbes writer Henry Doss observes that “…failure is a feature of highly innovative organizations….[T]here is a strong correlation between failure and innovation.” According to Doss, in a culture which is open to risk and experimentation, “[t]he paradigm is not one of failure, but one of frequency of trial.”