Stop Pretending, and Start Innovating

I saw a really interesting position listed on the vacancies list called Head of Innovation the other day. I love the idea of innovation and I have sometimes been called ‘innovative’ and it got me thinking, if that were me, what would innovation need to thrive? Innovation doesn’t just happen, I don’t suppose. It needs certain parameters to happen. But what might those parameters be? Too restrictive and innovation is stifled. Too broad and nothing ever gets done. So what are the components of innovation? Well, here are my ideas:


Innovation needs focus

And as Steve Jobs famously said, focus is about saying no. There’s so much to do these days, so many different things we are supposed to be working on, that how can we possibly innovate in any given field? We are expected to be adequate in every field and master in none. Surely innovation can only happen if we can excel and focus on specific problems, tasks, challenges. 

Focus is about saying no. 

We need to be able to say no to all the extraneous activities and focus on the field where the innovation is required. And even when the brilliant ideas come that are related to other activities, they must be sidelined or rejected so as not to dilute the focus on the problem. Apple designer, Jony Ive, recently made the confession that he had to learn about focus when designing. And the difficulty of waking up thinking about a great idea but having to reject it because it is not focused on the current project. That sounds tough, and yet has lead to some of the great design innovations of the 21st Century.


Innovation needs boundaries

You know what I hate? “Blue sky thinking”. What does that even mean? Starting with a ‘blank sheet’ doesn’t often lead to really insightful innovation. It mostly leads to more blank paper or rubbish ideas that don’t address any challenge or more questions that answers. There’s the brilliant 99u article that talks about giving two groups of creative types a creative task: one group was given the brief “do anything you like” and the other group was given “do anything you like with this box of coloured pencils”. The group with the box of pencils felt they could be far more creative than the group with, seemingly, more creative space. Innovation works best within parameters. A specific challenge to address, a specific set of boundaries within which to work.


Innovation needs space and time

There is so little boredom these days. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. Every single moment of every single day can be filled with something now. Even banal things like checking Twitter fill the moments that used to be empty, personal reflection or…for want of a better word…boring. In unconstructed, personal thinking space, innovative wandering can take place. Your mind can ask ‘what if’ and go on a magical mystery tour that it can’t otherwise do if it’s constantly occupied with other things. A bit of boredom is a good thing. A bit of space and time does wonders for innovation. It can’t be forced.



Innovation needs to go for it

The culture to say “it’s ok if it doesn’t work out”. If everything that is delivered must be a success, then why risk anything beyond the safe? And what safe idea ever lead to innovation? Innovation must be allowed to hear about some concept or new piece of technology and have the space to go, “I’m going to try this with it”. At work, I’ve just completed a series of Google Hangouts, and my team have been greeted as ‘innovative’ for our work. Hangouts have been around a while and a lot of people are using them…just not in my field. Experiments in modern democracy, if you like, to talk to new audiences and hear from them. And I know that if I’d worked in the central bit of the organisation, I arguably wouldn’t have been ‘allowed’ to do these Hangouts, but being a bit out of the loop and doing the Hangouts on my own terms (using a personal page rather than a work one) means we created the culture to go for it and take the risk. And now it’s been held up as a good example of innovation and everyone wants a piece of the YouTube pie! There needs to be a reasonable culture to try out new ideas for innovation to succeed and thrive.


So there you go. A few things that I think innovation needs to thrive.

Do you have any ideas about innovation?


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