The One Thing It Takes To Be Innovative

Most companies say they are innovative, but very few actually are. There is a lot of confusion around the word innovation these days. However, instead of stepping back and reflecting about what innovation really means and what it takes, it seems to be everyone’s mission to emphasise the word on their PowerPoint slides.

“We are an innovative company.” — if you need to say that on a slide, odds that it is the current reality are very low. It is more likely that you wish to be (more) innovative. But it appears that you have not gotten the memo: You do not become innovative by stating this on a slide. Proclaiming the value does not make it part of the culture, it just makes it part of your “corporate value statement.”

Adding an innovation objective to everyone’s annual performance goals? No. Performing weekly “think outside of the box” workshops? Definitely not. Having a colourful office with a large open kitchen and a LEGO corner? Come on!

It is a lot simpler and at the same time so much harder to make innovation part of your culture: Accept failure as an option. Companies and people we admire as innovators would not call themselves one. They solve interesting (read “hard”) problems. And when you try to solve a problem you will find a lot of solutions which turn out to be the wrong ones. Failures.

Say the word again: “Failure.” F-A-I-L-U-R-E.

Independent of age and size, but very dependent on culture and heritage, most organisations have already an issue with the word failure. Some managers even seem to have physical problems to just say it. They would never put that word onto one of their slides, but they would always put the word innovation on there. And that is the contradiction which breaks everything.

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