Innovation – The Intrepid Explorers Tale

This year I had an idea; I considered it an innovative idea as per this definition:

“The application of better solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulated needs, or existing market needs”.

Good for me. Or was it?

Lots has been written about innovation: is your organisation ready for it? How can you be more innovative? A thousand books like little treasure chests just waiting to be unlocked to reveal the shiny gems of innovative knowledge within. Everybody wants that treasure, right? Course they do. Seems like innovation is the new frontier: rewards to be had for those brave enough to go out and explore.

Well I went out and explored, and in doing so, came back with what explorers get: something that may be regarded by others as being valuable someday (what did people think the first time an explorer came back with a live elephant? ‘I can use that!! Oh, erm, perhaps not…shove it in a cage and keep it out of harm’s way. Oh look, we got ourselves a zoo!’), I got a few cuts and scrapes requiring attention, some moments of elation, some of despair, some humour, some indigestion and a fair bit of exhaustion. Sounds about right for an expedition.

But what I got most out of it was the experience, warts and all. Character building, useful experience. Stuff that, as my mother used to say, ‘You only learn the hard way’. So let me share with you my experiences. Perhaps they will help you steer clear of the rocks (or at least recognise the splintering, cracking sound of a hull breach) as you embark on your own journey of innovation one day across the precarious seas of opportunity.

1) Innovation is not Immediately Invoicable. That just popped out of my mouth one day, and somebody else caught it. What you may think is a good idea is going to take time to refine, test out, bend, twist, reject, accept, retry and that process is going to make others wonder what the heck is you are spending your time on I mean, YOU know this is a great idea, right, but who else does? You have the gut feeling, that ‘Hedonistic response’ that you are on the right track, but how can you tell other people yet? ‘But listen, it FEELS right…’ It’s still a work in progress, right? It’s half-in, half out of your brain. You can’t get rid of the conviction that you’re on to something, but neither can you fully convince others that this is a good idea. At this stage, people are wondering when you will extract your head from that dark place where you stuck it and actually DO something that will make money. Which leads to:

2) You need a bouncer. Yep, best way I can think of it. If you’re lucky, you’ll have somebody to give you space and get others to back off as you struggle with the formative stages of your idea. Might be a manager, might be the organisation itself. Whatever it is, it’s that someone or something that will give you space to try things out until they start to gel. If you can’t get that, not all is lost; it just means you’re going to have to spend time in skunk works. A 200 kg gorilla in a tuxedo is good; helps preserve the peace.

3) Adopt guerrilla tactics. Not gorilla. I don’t mean eat bananas. I mean employ the tactics of guerrilla warfare to get your idea accepted. Isolate individuals and get them on your side; sneak around furtively introducing the idea to people. Use the environment; mention the idea when hanging around the coffee machine, or when having a beer. Infiltrate that idea any which way you can. It’s fun.

4) Expect a rough ride. Not physically of course (well, hopefully), but definitely psychologically. Like being a policeman, you’ll see the side of humanity that ain’t so grand: the body language that says ‘what a load’. The ‘been there, done that’ brigade (no you haven’t, you just don’t get this), the ‘I have to listen to this but I’d rather not’ expressions. You wonder how others cannot get so excited about the picture you made by connecting the dots, and you begin to ask yourself ‘is this REALLY such a good idea?’ (or you may ask your wife/partner/dog as needs and circumstance dictate). Worry not, we all go through this dark teatime of the soul. Pick yourself up, and head on to the next point.

5) Grow a thick skin. The thicker the better. Real rhino hide stuff. Stuff that buckshot from a gun would barely tickle. You’ll need it. And when you do, please tell me how you did it.

6) Believe in what you are doing. If you don’t how the heck is anybody else going to? This isn’t about talking BS, it’s about projecting confidence so people will actually LISTEN to you and start to believe in your enthusiasm. Don’t doubt yourself. Well if you do, refer to point 3) and talk to the dog. Great listener, and won’t diss you, especially around meal time.

7) Let others know you have an idea. There’s no point in having an idea then mumbling and grumbling that nobody is taking you seriously when you haven’t actually TOLD anybody. Let people know your idea, and listen to what they think. Otherwise you’ll wonder why your idea is being ignored. It isn’t; people don’t know about it. Duh.

8) Recognise serendipity, i.e. ‘fortunate mistakes’. When chance actually works in your favour for once, pounce on it. The skill is in recognising it when it happens (‘Hey, my toast fell butter side up! Why did that happen?’) and spotting the opportunity (‘Aha! Toast stabilisers!!’).

9) Push, push, push. Having an idea is good. It’s great. It’s got one problem. It doesn’t have legs, and it isn’t going to go anywhere by itself. You’re going to have to push that baby to get it moving. Sometimes that’s an uphill struggle, sometimes it picks up momentum and cruises along by itself. However, you are going to have to steer it and push as needed. There will be resistance in so many places that you have got to push hard to get that idea to its destination of Done Central Station. Expect blisters along the way.

At the end of the day, hold your head up and say: ‘I tried’. Even if things don’t work out, you will have gained invaluable experience by reflecting upon what went wrong (and what went right). If you don’t try, nothing changes; the status quo is a dull place where nothing happens. Be proud of what you have done. Pat yourself on the back and look for the next opportunity. Bugger the naysayers; let them stew in their vat of lethargy and inaction. You did something and you weren’t afraid to take a few knocks on the way.

Only the bold go out and explore. But it’s better than staying at home and looking out the window. Go for it 😉

Blog writer is Anthony Bateman, a senior consultant at Bilot who thinks that technology is great, but currently only humans “do” creativity, and for that reason it is worth investing in the tools and techniques that empower people to release their creative potential.

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