The Light Bulb Effect

Why ideas are cheap and process is everything

You can tell a lot about something from a Google Image search. Search for London and you’ll see the key landmarks in the city. Search for innovation and you’ll see light bulbs. Lots and lots of light bulbs. This is probably because innovation is often seen as a single stroke of genius, a crackpot inventor dreaming up a brilliant piece of technology or a revolutionary new business. Einstein; Graham Bell; Jobs. Our culture is full of innovation hero worship. Oh, if we could only emulate these people how incredible would life be! This light bulb effect also presents innovation as a fluffy, nebulous concept that is used to describe anything and everything (a little like ‘strategy’).

Innovation is, however, essential for every individual and every business across the world. This is because innovation is at the core an ability to deal with change. In many ways the ‘innovation mindset’ sits side by side with the ‘hacker mindset’. Show an innovator a problem and they will turn it into an opportunity. Great innovators are great thieves — they steal solutions from other areas of business or life and apply them to the challenge at hand.

One of the biggest problems with innovation is cost. Being innovative inevitably entails failure, because new things often have no historical precedent. This issue of cost is something that underlies every business, though. It’s a balancing act: the business that succeeds is one that can increase the odds of an idea working without running out of money. So how do you increase the odds? You use technology.

Technology has lowered the barriers to entry of every industry, including your ability to test ideas. Lean startup; designing thinking; agile — it doesn’t matter what methodology or approach you follow. The core of all new innovation thinking is test and learn. Test and learn. Test and learn. Technology enables every test; it facilitates every piece of learning. Code can be used to test, data to learn. And these tools can allow you to prototype anything in hours and allow customers to get hands on with the idea instantly.

So, it’s not about ideas, it’s about process. And it’s not about strategy it’s about speed. Regardless of innovation strategy the tools used to speed up your test and learn process remain the same — and therefore have relevance for every business.

The light bulb element of innovation clouds the truth and makes it seem like rubbish. In reality ‘innovation’ is simply about becoming faster and more reactive as a business: in every area (from procurement to product).