Many people — including some in the innovation community — are of the belief that innovation is all about creativity and the ability to be creative. While, admittedly, creativity is an important constituency of innovation practice, and we wouldn’t get too far without it, it is not the end-all of the matter. Rather, it is but one element of a broader, overarching set of actions required to bring about effective and lasting innovation. If the whole of innovation practice might be thought of as a jet aircraft, then creativity is the jet fuel that makes it fly. But the jet fuel should not be mistaken for the jet, or even the jet engines. It is neither of these.
What happens when this mistaken belief is allowed to play out is that many “innovation” and “creativity” sessions simply go off course. We get a lot of really smart people coming together and being highly creative, but the problem is they are being highly creative about the wrong things. The end result is that the ideas they generate do not mesh with where their executives’ minds happen to be, and worst of all, no one is able to tell them why their ideas go nowhere.
So, one might ask… “Why does this happen?” The answer to that question lies in the fact that their organizations have failed to stop, sit down, and first set into place a clear innovation strategy. Going back to our jet aircraft analogy, we need to know something more… we need to know where the jet is headed, and we need to know this before we fuel up the jet.
The act of creating a clear innovation strategy forces organizations to think through and answer some very key questions; questions such as… how are we going to approach innovation? What’s on the table and what’s not on the table? How fast do we need to move? What are our threats and opportunities? What’s at stake? How aggressive do we want to be / need to be / can afford to be (or not be)? And… what is our risk tolerance level? All of which is just a beginning. There is in fact a long list of matters that must be carefully considered in order to bring together a solid, effective innovation strategy that is well aligned to a particular business.
It is not until now… having created an innovation strategy, that they can finally send off their best and brightest minds to be creative and can rest assured that these contributors will be creative about the right things, given that they have a strategy to align to. The strategy brings bright clear light to what the organization is looking for, and leaves no room for ambiguity. Without it, many business ideas are generated and subsequently rejected, and no one is able to explain why other than an executive’s whim. The innovation strategy leaves no room for that.
So the take away is this… start with innovation strategy, and make sure it is well thought out and well suited for your business and fits well with the rest of your business strategy. Then, align your team to this strategy, and let them have at it. You will thank yourself for doing this, as it will result in a significantly higher number of creative business ideas that pass the initial checkpoint, and far fewer that end up dead out of the gate, meaning your overall innovation effort will be that much more productive.
Anthony Mills is the Founder and CEO of Legacy Innovation Group, a strategic innovation and growth strategy consulting firm.
You can learn more about Legacy Innovation Group at www.legacyinnova.com.