We think of innovation as a game changer. An innovation is a major “why didn’t I think of that” or “life will never be the same" idea. But does innovation have to be defined that way? What is innovation? Is it just ideas? And does it always mean thinking outside the box?
At Summit 7 Systems, we seek to be innovative. Here in 2016, this word has lost its pop though. Some of my colleagues look at what we do, which in a large part has revolved around SharePoint the past few years, and ask what can truly be innovative anymore? What new ideas can we possibly come up with in 2016 related to a product that’s in its teens?
When I speak to a customer and ask why something is done a certain way and I get the answer “because we’ve always done it that way,” I know that customer has gone stagnant. It’s easy to understand why things get this way. There is so much work to be done in companies. Many of my customers report being understaffed and as near as I can see, none of them are wrong. The sheer amount of emergencies that are dropped on top of our to-do lists each week leaves little time for innovation.
Back in 2003, facemash.com was created by a few Harvard students and in 2 years became Facebook. The creation of Facebook really was innovative for the time. It was a game changer, even though it took a few years to grow.
(Image Source: Source: http://www.slideshare.net/AmitChaudhary311/the-facebook-31853398)
When I was in college in the 90’s, I heard about a company that hadn’t turned a profit after 5 years in business. They sold books online. At the time, I could still get any book I wanted at any one of a number of big name book stores right near my house. But selling books was simply the start. And now, Amazon rules the online store market. There are times, more often than I’d like to admit, that I order from Amazon with my Prime membership instead of stopping in the local Walmart.
It’s easy to agree that Facebook and Amazon were game changers in their day. And they still are in certain circles and technologies.
I’m sure there are many discoveries yet to be made in this world. They seem fewer and far between when you use the definition “out of the box.” The human genome project comes to mind as well as medical research breakthroughs such as the cure for cancer, for which many are still striving.
I think innovation is a mindset. I would say that the development of WD40 and Post-Its were innovative, but they were also mistakes. It’s easy to think of innovation as simply new ideas. What’s the difference between Facebook, Amazon and WD40 or Post-its?
Here are the 3 best ways to ensure successful innovation:
- Innovation takes initiative. Yes, it takes initiative to see a problem and get off your duff and think about a solution. It also means not thinking about every problem the same way or not thinking that every problem for each customer will be solved by what you’ve already done or by that first page of Google results. Ask “why?” continually. Keep asking until you’re satisfied with the answer.
- Innovation takes change. While an innovation may not have that “life will never be the same again” reach, it involves change. "Why do we do that this way? Maybe we should change it.”
- Innovation takes recognition. You have to recognize an innovation when you see one or when the idea pops into your head or when the answer to “why” opens a new door. WD40 and Post-Its were accidents because the scientists were trying to create totally different things. In one sense they failed. But someone noticed the failure of the original problem and recognized that it could be the solution to a totally different problem statement.
Innovation is a mindset. It is not a defeatist, ho-hum mindset either. It’s a mindset geared towards recognizing and solving problems or improving aspects of life or work life that doesn’t involve checking your brain at the door. I would also venture that innovation takes a bit of “good enough” thinking and not perfectionist thinking. The light bulb, the Walkman, microwave ovens, the Slinky, Silly putty, WD40, Post-Its, Penicillin: they don’t solve everything, but they are good enough innovations that were life changing when developed and have all been improved on because they worked perfect.