Innovation is the business world’s fountain of youth. Everyone is seeking it, but not everyone is willing to take major risks that are necessary to find it. Innovation is one of the most overused buzzwords of today, but it holds so much influence in the world of business leaders. Innovation beckons us with its promises of success and power, but only few seem to arrive at that point.
Header image courtesy of anaxolotl via Flickr.
While leaders study the leaders of successful, creative firms, one important fact always tends to be forgotten:innovation is uncomfortable. One can even go as far as to say that innovative concepts won’t be created or executed if everyone feels comfortable. Creating a product or service which is differentiated from the crowd requires risk and uncertainty, but a successful end result is what all business leaders hope for.
1. Vulnerability initiates creativity
Ever since her famous TED talk on vulnerability, Dr. Brené Brown has counseled several corporations on introducing the concept of openness and authenticity into the workplace.
In an interview for Forbes, Dr. Brown linked the qualities of innovation and vulnerability together. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity and innovation,” she said. Vulnerability requires leaders to admit that they don’t have all the answers. This invites alternative ideas to the table, and allows engagement within the workplace, instead of friction. By encouraging everyone involved to make their contributions.
2. Innovation requires risk
Major innovations require risk, because it requires you to do things nobody else has done before. This could be a new type of marketing campaign. It could be introducing a new product to the market which requires a lot of consumer education. It might be a new sort of service nobody has encountered before. Whatever it may be, it requires risk because most likely there hasn’t been any market research on your idea. So you need to take a leap, and risk the potential for failure. Vulnerability is exposing oneself to unknown. “There is something truly vulnerable in trying something new,” Dr. Brown notes, “Failure is always an option, and that feels very vulnerable.”
Dr. Brown is not the only great mind which agrees with this concept of risk. Seth Godin, best-selling author and marketing guru, noted on his blog that, “It’s impossible to have a coin with only one side. You can’t have heads without tails. Innovation is like that…You can’t have success unless you’re prepared to have failure.” This can be a difficult concept to swallow, especially considering that the majority of startups fail. But every great endeavor requires blood, sweat, and tears in some form―otherwise, it wouldn’t be considered “great.”
3. Innovation rocks the boat
It’s important to distinguish the different between major and minor innovations. A major innovation is a product or solution which radically changes the market. Think Facebook, Netflix, and Apple. Each of these companies completely disrupted the markets in which they operated:the social media industry, movie rental industry, and the electronic music industry respectively. Essentially, innovation means that you identify and capitalize on gaps in the market. In comparison, minor innovations are just new takes on an existing product. Few people would get excited about just copying another product, but most people get excited when they create something entirely new.
This leads to the uncomfortable reality that there isn’t much market research to base your idea on. When asked about how much market research was conducted during the development of the iPad, Steve Jobs replied, “None. It isn’t the consumer’s job to know what they want.” Essentially, Steve Jobs was referring to the fact that people often don’t know what they want, but they are pretty articulate in saying what they don’t like. As noted in an article on Forbes, “It’s in customers’ unmet needs that the real opportunity to build the next great business exists.”
If you want to travel down the rocky road of innovation, prepare for what’s ahead as best you can, and be willing to face some failure. Innovation is a tricky game, but it’s better to face this reality versus being blindsided in the middle of the endeavor. Look for at the opportunities which are all around you. Just look carefully―they’re easy to glance over.
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