Why Is Meaningful Innovation So Hard?

MAT Studios
Oct 5 · 5 min read

Where to start if you want to do it better.

“No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess”

- Isaac Newton

Well, let’s explore that.

The first hurdle is defining what innovation actually is. Many people claim to be innovators, but usually have their own explanation as to what that means to them. So, who’s right and who’s wrong?

The answer is, they’re all right!

Put simply, innovation is discovery, ideation, exploration, experimentation, creativeness, development, investigation, evolution, etc, etc, etc. What I’m trying to say is that innovation is in everything and an innovator is anyone who perceives themselves as making advancements in their unique space. Take for example when you hear a new slang term and think “that’s quite useful, I think I’ll use that”, that’s innovation. Someone, somewhere invented that term and spread the accepted usage of it, that person was an innovator.

So, when executives define innovation, they need to consider it in the context of their organization’s unique DNA, e.g. market position, product/ service offering, geography, target audience, etc. However, they should also consider the scale of innovation they desire, which is more often than not defined by competitor pressure, consumer need and risk appetite. Remember, innovation can be as intricate and complex as designing a new AI-led computer system, or as simple as changing the color of ketchup from red to green, it depends on what end result you desire.

But why, if I’ve just so easily explained the context of innovation, is it so hard to implement? It’s true that most people understand the importance of innovation, it’s actually ingrained in our DNA; as a survival instinct humans are deeply curious, seeking to learn and grow in order to thrive. After all evolution has proven that those who don’t evolve, die out; but very few know exactly what they need to address, when they need to address it and how to do it. For example, you could gather fresh, creative insights straight from your consumers, but it would mean nothing to you if you weren’t sure which ideas to support and scale.

Unfortunately for humans, despite being a naturally curious species we’re also a very lazy one. As Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman points out “laziness is built deep into our nature”; after all, one of the main reasons we seek to innovate in the first place is to find shortcuts that make our busy lives a little bit easier.

Our habits aren’t entirely at fault though, society and our upbringing are part to blame. Everyone is born with the power to re-think and innovate, but by never being taught how to access it, it becomes impossible to reach.

In his famous TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity” Sir Ken Robinson reminds us that our education system was built for the industrial age. An age that was founded on the core principals of conformity, compliance, linear processes and division of labour. This type of thinking is great if you’re trying to iron our human errors from a manufacturing line but hinders creativity by sucking out any individualism.

And we don’t stop there. This kind of thinking permeates through to our jobs as well. Most organizations are built on predictable, reliable, standardized results, we’re taught that good performance is equal to avoiding failure. “Don’t stray too far from the path, you might make a mistake and that could be costly”. So, rather than give innovation a really good go, which is inherently risky, rather than be a little adventurous, which could be costly, organizations prefer to resist until absolutely necessary. They focus on ‘quick-wins’, maximizing short-term return and branding it as ‘innovation’ but really, they aren’t doing much. This kind of thinking not only causes you to miss out on opportunities for advancement but leaves you vulnerable to competitors that did decide to give it a go.

Failure is an unavoidable part of innovation, yet it goes against everything we believe and everything we’ve been taught, which makes it difficult to rationalise. In order to overcome these barriers, we need to re-define mistakes as ‘learning opportunities’. We need to be open-minded, accepting and understand that failure is a natural part of learning. Without recalibrating, we’ll keep on trying to push forward whilst simultaneously holding ourselves back.

Albert Einstein is widely credited with having said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”.

Break the cycle, encourage individualism and accept that innovation is all about uncertainty.

@ MAT Studios we help the largest organizations and brands in the world become smaller and less complicated by asking and answering the right questions. This article was written by Elliott Sparks :)

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MAT Studios

Written by

Helping you launch tomorrow, today. We enable companies to explore whats next and ignite impactful innovation.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +734K people. Follow to join our community.

MAT Studios

Written by

Helping you launch tomorrow, today. We enable companies to explore whats next and ignite impactful innovation.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +734K people. Follow to join our community.

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