Innovation has evolved in recent years from a “nice to have”–that a few elite organizations such as Apple and Google have truly championed–to an essential organizational imperative for all companies. With that, certain misconceptions about the discipline have emerged. The misconceptions associated with innovation are often based on fear, confusion and, in many cases, some kernel of truth. Let’s have a quick look at some the common fallacies that we’ve encountered of late, and how, in some cases, quite the opposite might be true.
Myth #1: Innovation is purely spontaneous, unpredictable, and difficult to manage.
Fact: Some people tend to think of innovation as a bunch of ideas that occurred to a few creative individuals when inspiration hit. In its essence, this image is not too far from the truth. Except that, in the world of business, an organization can prescribe what problem the ideas should address, which individuals are on the innovation team, and by what date inspiration should have hit.
In business, companies can, and should, put a framework around innovation in order to get things done. Adding structure to the otherwise abstract art of innovation is what helps ideas materialize. Company managers should realize that and stop thinking of innovation as an elusive and mysterious process outside of their control.
Myth #2: Innovation is important only for long-term projects.
Fact: Yes, innovation can involve new technologies and groundbreaking products that require time. But innovation can also be as casual as thinking about a problem in a different way or finding a practical solution to an everyday challenge. A quick way to infuse innovation into an organization is to encourage employees to think critically about the job they do every day and to look for easy, practical ways to shave off time and money from current processes. Innovation, done this way, can impact not only an organization’s future but the way business is done today.
Myth #3: Creativity is the most important attribute for innovation work.
Fact: Creative thinking is, without doubt, a key trait for successful innovators. But it is in no way the only one that matters. Innovation involves a process. The ideation phase of an innovation project, which most heavily relies on creative thinking, is usually over pretty quickly. After that the new ideas need to be sold to management, refined and implemented–all tasks that require many other qualities besides creativity.
Ultimately the innovation process demands a balance of creative and strategic skill sets, both right-brain and left-brain thinking–within the team composition, and, in many cases, within individuals themselves. This is why it’s important to strive for diversity in innovation projects, defining teams that include not only creative thinkers but also great presenters, technology geeks, talented negotiators, detail-orientated analysts, disciplined project managers, et al.
The members of such a diverse innovation team will know their roles and will be able to tackle every challenge the team is bound to face in the innovation process.
Myth #4: Marketers make the best innovators.
Fact: Marketers are experts in their brand and target consumers. But this knowledge alone doesn’t necessarily make them innovative. One could argue that a marketer is too familiar with the consumers’ preferences to come up with a unique solution, and too concerned with preserving the brand equity to dare to innovate. Can marketers be innovative at all? Sure, some can. But the same is true about scientists, engineers, IT specialists and sales people. This is important to remember when staffing an innovation team–the members should come from a variety of jobs and backgrounds.
Innovation is, perhaps above all, about challenging expectations and existing conventions. As such, these, and other “myths,” about the process can likely be refuted or reconsidered, and probably should.