I believe that innovation is not only about ideas. It is also getting an idea off the ground.
A lot of companies fail to innovate, not because they don’t have great ideas, but because they fail in the execution of the ideas.
A lot of people confuse innovation with creativity. Creativity is more about the idea. Innovation is more about realization of the idea. Innovators are makers. They make the creative idea happen.
Some of that is not understanding what innovation is.
Innovation is the introduction of something new. It’s not always that next funky new product. It can be a new way of doing things. It can be taking that old product and using it in a new way. Or taking it to a new market.
In many ways innovation is a process. Or really a practice. A company that fails to innovate is often instead failing at executing an innovation practice, rather than failing at their innovations.
How to tell if a company is failing at innovation execution rather than innovation
One of the ways to see if you are failing at innovation is to look at your trail of pivots. Or rather the trend of those pivots. Is each pivot vastly different than the next? Or do you see a progression in the pivots?
Often people embrace a once and done approach. They put something out there quickly. Testing if it’s going to be adopted right away. If it’s not, then they think that the idea is wrong. And they abandon it.
They do a yes/no test rather than seek information. They are really trying to sell rather than validate the innovation. Then they throw it out if it’s not sold. If instead you approach validation as seeking information, then you can adapt the innovation around the feedback.
The trail of pivots can show you if they are adapting your ideas or abandoning ideas too early. Seek to see if there is a continuum in the trail of pivots, or if there are wide swings between iterations.
As an example, companies changing methodologies often fail at innovating . A lot of us have worked at companies that will embrace a new way of working, only to change to some new thing after a short time. Or worse, carry on for along time trying to force a transformation before eventually abandoning it.
Build steps of progressive evolution into your innovation practices
The innovation practices of soft launches and prototypes are discovery driven. The idea behind this is to minimize investment in an innovation before throwing a lot of resources behind it.
While this is good, I’m more in favour of implementing an iterative approach into your innovation execution,
Break the innovation into small pieces and implement each one. Iterate on individual features, collecting feedback in between. Possibly even consider rolling it back out. A slight variation on prototyping because you do take the feature to the full market. It’s the idea behind sprints. The innovation rolls out over time, adapting at each stage.
A variation of this is to evolve the full delivery of the product or service over time. This is the idea behind putting something out initially as a concierge service. Meaning that it has manual delivery. Once it evolves to a fuller adoption you might automate it. The dedicated concierge people gather feedback. Automation happens after a level of feedback is folded into the offering.
A company that innovates well is known for innovation execution
If you google innovation failures, the results are lists of classic product failures. The new Coke. Google Glass. The Newton. If you google innovation successes, the results are often lists of companies that do innovation well. Big companies we all know about – Apple, Amazon, Salesforce, Samsung, Google.
(An aside, check out the Fast Company’s 2021 list of most innovative companies. It’s a different take because it includes what they comment on why them make the list. The why is a mix of product, process, and business model.)
When you step back and think about it, you see this supports the point I’m making about innovation. It’s not the product ideas but the company’s approach that makes it successful at innovation.
And its why, a company that does innovation well, with Google as an example, can appear on both lists.
Even when a company does innovation well, a product idea can sometimes bubble up that eventually is abandoned. Sometimes because it’s an innovation before its time. Or momentum took it farther than it really deserved. Sometimes in a quickly moving market, its disrupted quickly too.
Wrapping it up.
To be successful at innovating focus on practices. While fostering creative ideas is important, how you innovate is a stronger guarantee of success.
Build iteration into your innovation execution. Deciding for your company and products how to slice iterations. Look beyond the product. Consider innovating business models, markets and how you do work internally.