Everyone knows that starting a new business, or even keeping an old one competitive, requires innovation. But in my role as a mentor to many aspiring entrepreneurs, I find many who never start because they assume that they don’t have what it takes to be innovative. Chances are, they have accepted one of the common myths that keep innovation outside their range of thinking.
I’m convinced that every one of us has innovative insights from time to time, but an entrepreneur is one who acts on these thoughts now, rather than just dismissing them or waiting for more validation. For example, I have a friend who had a couple of long-standing very innovative ideas, which could have been patented, only to find that someone else recently beat him to the punch.
So, the next time you are about to dismiss an innovative idea, check this list of myths (or excuses), before you let a potential opportunity of a lifetime slip through your fingers. Time is of the essence, since innovations today are “old news” tomorrow. Here is my prioritized list of innovation myths that stand in the way of too many business professionals:
- Innovators are born with special DNA, which can’t be activated later. Even the best work from Harvard on this subject concludes that innovation is only about 30 percent individual genes and 70 percent learnable and driven by motivation. They suggest that everyone focus on associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.
- Innovation is like art and music – it can’t be planned and managed. More recent research confirms that innovation is a discipline, and it can be maximized, measured, and managed through formal processes. The well-known management consultant Peter Drucker was the first to outline the key areas for focus, inside and outside the business.
Within your company, look for unexpected occurrences, incongruities, process needs, or changes in an industry or market. Outside the company, look for demographic changes, changes in perception, and new knowledge.
- Innovations are sparked by outside-the-box thinking activity. There are some techniques for training a team or yourself to think outside-the-box, and this process does result in some innovations, but others are simply the result of trying to do your job better, or having a bad experience. Many other innovations are just the result of lucky accidents.
- True Innovations require creativity and right-brain thinking. Innovation and creativity are two different things. Creativity is more about ideas, while innovation is all about implementation. If your strength is in being logical and organized (left-brain), that talent may actually give you an advantage in the real world of business, delivering innovations.
The way to leverage creativity into innovation is by pairing your creative people with left-brain implementers who will make change happen.
- Real innovation requires new technology from experts. Experts may create technology, but regular people apply it to customer needs, For example, Jeff Bezos of Amazon energized online commerce with his early one-click patent, which had some technology behind it, but was basically a simple red button to complete and ship an order.
- Large organizations and stable processes stifle innovations. It’s true that startups may be quicker to seek out and adopt innovations, but there are clearly some problems that can only be solved by companies with highly specialized resources. Indeed, there are large companies, including Toyota with Kaizen, that have built cultures of innovation.
Of course, individual technical entrepreneurs often have the specialized talents, as well as the motivation to tackle these innovations, creating an ideal opportunity for a win-win relationship through funding or acquisition.
- Companies need a culture of change before innovations can emerge. In reality, innovations come from people, not culture. Keep your culture customer-focused to recognize opportunities for innovation. When people change, due to new leadership, new motivation, or business changes, innovations occur, rather than the other way around.
- Innovations need to be validated and perfected before market exposure. In fact, the only way to test the value of an innovation is to take it to market. Of course, it pays to start with a minimum viable product (MVP), and assume some pivots will be required. In these days of rapid market change, extensive pre-market testing is not recommended.
There are many more myths that inhibit innovative ideas in new businesses, as well as old. But without the reality of execution, innovative ideas really have no value. Customers are interested in solutions, and investors want to see traction and results. Your real challenge as a business professional or an aspiring entrepreneur is to move from idea to action quickly.
The market and your competitors never stand still, so every moment you don’t execute on an innovation, you are losing ground, or losing an opportunity. Don’t let a few outdated and unproven innovation myths stop your career or prevent you from achieving the lasting legacy that you always dreamed about.