Over the years, I noticed that I seem to get a similar set of questions from the participants at my talks, workshops, and innovation boot camps. What this tells me is that there are a set of common questions about innovation that are on everyone's mind.
Here are the 9 common questions on innovation that I get.
How do I define innovation?
Innovation is when an idea becomes real to the point where someone is willing to exchange value to get it. Ideas are easy. Turning them into something that has impact is really hard.
What is a killer innovation?
Some people over the years have criticized and attacked my use of the word “killer”. When I started the show back in 2005, the word “killer” was used to describe things like “killer apps” which is translated to — “best app”.
My definition of killer innovations is an innovation that is a significant and highly profitable departure from current offerings or practices that would be difficult to duplicate.
So … incremental innovation is of no value?
NO. There are multiple types of innovations and incremental is just as important as the others. An incremental innovation is when you build on top of an existing innovation with something new and unique.
Incremental innovations are highly valuable since most organizations depend on these incremental innovations to pay the rent while the next disruptive innovation is being worked on.
Why is innovation so difficult?
Its not just about the idea. There are a lot of pieces that must come together to turn an idea into a game changing — killer innovation. And most of these things you are not in control of.
What are some of the things you cannot control?
One thing critical to innovation success that you cannot control is timing. You may have the best idea but if the market is not ready, technology is not ready, government regulations are not ready — you're stuck.
Remember that Steve Jobs and Apple did NOT invent the smart phone. Depending on who you talk to, it was either Nokia and/or Palm. Steve and Apple just got the timing right.
What are some of the things you CAN control?
Your team. Innovation is a team sport. Who you hire — who you allow to be on your team — will be the most important decision you make.
I look for passion and culture fit. I can teach skills. I cannot teach/inject passion. And if you're a jerk, then there is no room on my team for you.
What is one of the biggest mistakes more organizations make when it comes to innovation?
Creating a culture where “failure” is not allowed. Innovation is all about failure. If you aren't failing, you aren't innovating.
Best in class teams and organizations have a 90% failure rate. If your's is lower, then you are not stretching. You are making the safe bets.
If you're failure rate is above 90%, then take a look at how you are selecting and managing your idea funnel.
How can organizations get over their fear of failure?
By celebrating failure when they occur versus hiding them. In a previous role, I actually put in place a bonus system that would reward failure. You need to send the message that a willingness to take risks and try is just as important as the successes.
WARNING: If an organization has a history of punishing failure such as firing or demoting people whose project didn't succeed, then changing the culture will be incredibly HARD if not impossible.
What is another mistake most organizations make?
Most senior leader lack patience. Innovation is HARD and as a result, its hard to predict when a breakthrough will occur.
No matter how good you think you are at predicting and managing projects, when it comes to innovation — it takes long than you think. Get used to it.
Bonus question: Who are the best people to be innovators? Who should I hire?
EVERYONE! Everyone is an innovator. It doesn't matter the role, function, education, background or skills. Innovation is a skill that you can learn, practice and become proficient at.
Now — some will be better at it than others but that is because they work at it. They practice it. They exercise their creative muscle everyday. Do you?
If not, then don't set back and complain because someone else is “more creative” because of some special gift. Your ability to innovate is in your control.
To exercise your creativity muscle, check out this speech on creative thinking.