So much is said in the ways of innovation, it has become the buzz word of the decade. Every company is looking for it, like they are searching for the “El Dorado”. It has become a milestone, a yearly objective, budgets are thought up for it, and yet, with so much buzz around it, so many talking about it and working on it, why isn’t it happening like we predicted? You invested money, you read reports, you benchmarked all the greats, Apple, Google, P&G, Facebook, so why isn’t it working how it was supposed to?
The answer is quite complicated because real innovation goes against our culture, against what we have been taught, our usual way of working. By real I mean that i’m not talking about the kind of innovation where: product+1=innovation, or let’s make the same toothbrush with a different color or shape.
Most companies follow reports, trends, they analise previous results and try to make them better the following year, we look at what has been done and try to improve. Most of the times we are mechanically looking to sell more and if our way of doing business is working why would we change anything? Business schools teach us how to lean on reliable results, we look for reliable methods to work. We are taught that by analyzing past successes we will also succeed in the same amount, “… why? If they have done it it’s just a matter of doing something similar”.
There is nothing wrong with that, with exploiting an “algorithm” to make revenues grow for the sake of it. The problem is that real innovation is on the spectrum of validity and not reliability. To validate something means you need to “wait” into the future and you’ll only know the result of your validation sometime in the future, not in past reports.
Usually, in my line of work, when a new concept is proposed, a new experiment or hypothesis, I consistently hear these kind of comments or questions: “ Hum… how long do you think that is going to take?” or “Do you think we can pull that new concept in two days?” or “ How much more percentage in revenue do you think that will bring us”. The answer? I don’t know because it’s not in the books, it hasn’t been tried yet. Only in the future we’ll know if it works. It can only be validated in the future or in the long run.
Right now you’re probably thinking : “ but that’s too risky! If you don’t have any means to know that it will work so why would I take the risk” and that’s exactly why companies don’t really innovate. They only take the risk if it has been proved successful. But follow me on this, how are you going to be in the lead in the race for innovation when you are only following past successes? If it was already done it means that you are only following behind.
Yes, there are ways to make a risk less “riskier”, but there are still risks nonetheless and you will have to bet on the unknown. And that frightens analysts, consultants and managers that rely on solid reports to prove themselves.
Of course that methods are still needed, so it isn´t all just an idiotic bet. But it has to be a work of trial, error and validation, not a work of reliability. Yes, it doesn’t guarantee success, and you can keep doing what is reliable, but let me tell you this fable from Bertrand Russel to finish up:
In a farm, there is a chicken who expects (correctly) to be fed every time the farmer appears in the morning, and who predicts (reliably, but not validly) that it will also be fed on (what turns out to be) its last day on Earth, when the farmer comes to chop off its head.