Companies equate digitization to innovation, maybe because it is the present buzzword that sells. Maybe because there is extra capacity of the designers and developers they hired to develop apps and it costs too much to reskill the talent pool to do something else. So instead of pushing a portfolio of apps, innovation labs now push “consultants” to help innovate on your companies behalf by building bespoke apps that are difficult to integrate with and tend to sit outside anything remotely useful in your current technology landscape. Innovation teams blame legacy (IT and processes) for holding them back. IT and business blame the innovation lab for being unrealistic and not caring about existing revenue streams that help to pay their salaries. No one is happy and everyone just assumes the other camp is full of idiots.
So where did it all go wrong?
For starters, innovation is a philosophy. It is multidisciplinary, drawing inspiration from different disciplines to create something new and better. It is a way of living and believing that life can be better. And yes it should be fuzzy. If it is well defined, that would just be yet another project, which is what innovation has been bastardized to become by many corporates like the concept of Kaizen before that.
Corporations have created processes for innovation like design thinking, lean startup methodology etc. that guarantee results. But when the goal posts are determined by the same people that kick the balls, there might as well not be a goal post. The whole concept of value for the business, personally is profit. Not revenue, not user base, not monthly active users and all sorts of other nonsensical metrics that justify bankrupt companies and their existence (ahem unicorns). The only raison d’etre for businesses is purely about staying profitable. Adjacent goals like sustainability, diversity will have a positive feedback loop with the true core — profit.
So back to innovation, how do we get there? Faith. Faith in the philosophy. I like the example of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee:
- To allow the having no rules to define rules
- To allow having no limits to be the limits
You must believe in the philosophy: to be discontented with the status quo and constantly create something new. Even if it’s failure it’s fine. Because even in failure there is success (3M Post its).
You must possess the ability to implement change. The ability may not exist now. The knowledge may not be present and requires discovery. But the drive to seek the knowledge will lead to finding a bigger picture. The search will yield a broader paradigm.
With the new skills, you can be the change maker. To be the flag bearer of conviction. When you believe in it, make your team believe in it. When your team believes in it, they will perform better and soon other teams will adopt as well and soon the whole company will adopt it as well. Innovation is a philosophy. A leap of faith. And faith takes a lifetime. Not a set of steps in a process.
Find change in constraints. Infinite resources will just result in things done the same way over and over again, because it works. We do not fix what is not broken. But when we have constraints, we are forced to find new ways to do the same tasks. Or new ways to do new tasks. Limits on resources forces us to be creative. Buddhist teachings: suffering, pain, and misery exist in life. Accept constraints. Embrace constraints. Live through constraints.
- Be discontent with status quo
- Create an environment for failure
- Seek ability
- Be the change
- Work with constraints
- Think of turning failure into success with existing constraints