In my years of leading and studying innovation, I have come to see that there are seven deadly sins that threaten to derail innovation inside of all businesses. If we as businesses are to therefore succeed at innovation, we must consistently navigate the perils of these sins and pursue a life of “righteous innovation”.
Sin #1 — Not Making Love
The first sin is not making love to our markets. By this we mean eschewing empathy for the market’s needs, and more specifically, for its customer’s needs. All real innovation starts with a need — an unmet need. We as businesses cannot know what these needs are if we are not paying close attention to our markets and actively engaging them to hear their voice and listen with empathy to these needs. The greatest sin is when we as businesses think it is about us and our offerings, and we forget that it is really about the market and its needs. When we stop making love to our markets, we end up in a great divorce… one that has catastrophic consequences for us as a business.
Sin #2 — Not Making Connections
The second sin is not making connections. By this we mean resisting the need to look outside of our own four walls to see what is going on in the world around us… being reluctant to network, and to collaborate on things like market understanding and technology development. It is the age-old “not invented here” sin. The problem is… this sin is much more egregious today than it was in our father’s generation. Today, the markets simply do not reward insularity. They reward openness and collaboration — bringing new value and new innovation through the shared economy of creation. While the markets may not know for certain what goes on inside our four walls, they do see the end result, and they do care about that. What they overwhelmingly seem to be saying with their voting dollars is that the best products and services — the ones that are capturing their attention — are the ones that are spawned out of many voices, not a singular voice.
Sin #3 — Not Making Money
The third sin is not making money. What we mean by this is not pursuing the right opportunities — profitable ones. One might think that this sin would be the last one to list, but we list it right here in the middle because in our economy of things, it is right here in the middle that we make the business decisions about which opportunities we will and will not pursue. These decisions need to be made with the right data in hand and with the right motivations behind them — motivations that balance the markets’ needs with our businesses’ needs. If, either because of bad data, bad strategy, or bad motivations — we make the wrong choices, then we pay a hefty price in terms of sunk investments that yield no returns. Commit this sin enough times, and death will surely come knocking on our business’ door. If that happens, we won’t be around to make rain, beauty, light, and conversation.
Sin #4 — Not Making Rain
The fourth sin is not making rain. By this we mean being unable to connect pertinent technologies with fundamental unmet market needs. The innovation righteous live by being present in two worlds at once… the world of accurate and deep, insightful market knowledge, and the world of deep technology understanding. They are the rainmakers, the alchemists, who know how to connect the dots and put these two together to make magic. Whenever we as businesses emphasize one at the expense of the other, the end result is a lot of lightning and thunder, and very little rain. Continue this long enough, and we will certainly experience drought. The future belongs to those who know how to make rain, and who are willing to go outside and make the rain happen.
Sin #5 — Not Making Beauty
The fifth sin is not making beauty. By this we mean not pursuing good design. Our markets demand that we pay attention to their needs, and that we deliver human-centric products, services, and experiences. This human centrality only happens when we are intentional about good design. Bad design happens when we don’t care enough to think through the design, when we don’t want to be bothered with the hard work it takes to use design thinking and work through all the nooks and crannies of our designs from every possible perspective. The end result of that is not beautiful, and our markets will not reward “not beautiful”. If we feel that a product or service deserves to exist, then we as businesses owe to both ourselves and our markets to make it a thing of beauty.
Sin #6 — Not Making Light
The sixth sin is not making light. By this we mean the inability to create effective outbound marketing campaigns… not shedding light on our offerings. Just because we build a better mousetrap (and many people have), does not mean that the markets are going to beat a path to our door. They aren’t. It is our responsibility to shine a light and to shine it bright. It is our responsibility to get the word out and to make the world know… to make them know in a way that makes them care. When we make them care, they will know that we too care. And the market will reward us when they know that we care. Those who do not make light are doomed to live in darkness.
Sin #7 — Not Making Conversation
The seventh sin is not making conversation. By this we mean the failure to create effective inbound marketing campaigns… the failure to create engagement. We as businesses owe it to both our markets and ourselves to make conversation with one another… to engage one another. But it is our responsibility to start this process of engagement. We cannot sit back and expect the markets to create engagement with us, we have to create engagement with it. We do this by educating, entertaining, and ultimately enriching the lives of the millions of human beings who make up our markets. We do this by giving our markets a chance to speak to us, and then… we listen… we listen carefully, we listen intently. And we make darn well sure that when we finally do speak, what we give them back says we have listened and we have listened well, and we do care. They will reward us for caring about them. Those who fail to listen are doomed to live in silence. Silence begets ignorance and ignorance begets poverty.
So what do these seven deadly sins all have in common? They all forget to be human. They forget that, even as businesses, and even as markets, we are all ultimately made up of human beings, and human beings demand that humanity and human dignity be respected. When we as businesses forget this, we fall into these innovation sins. We will not innovate. And we will not prosper. We will die.
Fortunately there is hope. Innovation righteousness is attainable and it does pay handsome rewards. The first step is to care, but not just to care a little… to care a lot! Actually, to be passionate about what it is we are doing, and to let everything else flow out of this passion. When we as businesses are passionate, we will innovate, and we will make love, connections, money, rain, beauty, light, and conversation. And, most importantly, we will have made community.
Anthony Mills is the Founder and CEO of Legacy Innovation Group. To learn more, visit us at www.legacyinnova.com.