Innovation sucks (most of the time)
Innovation is everywhere. We all recognize the need for it. When people innovate and implement new ideas, they bring incredible benefits to the economy and can solve environmental and social problems on various levels.
Innovation is a buzzword and will continue to be. But when push comes to shove, being innovative sucks (most of the time).
While we celebrate the success of an innovative project, we often do not realize that the success we celebrate starts with a series of challenging events. Successful innovation is never the norm. The norm is a series of failures and challenges, and only once in a while is the project successful. Here are at least nine reasons why innovation sucks.
- Failure: Innovators deal with failure and disappointment as their daily norm. Only sometimes do they manage to create a successful project. Nonetheless, after spending countless time and resources on ideas that don’t work, the feeling of failing still sucks.
- Risk: Innovators have to deal with threats, making it extremely difficult to find help when they start. People might like to take risks for themselves, but someone will rarely join you if the venture is too risky.
- Lack of resources: Whether it’s more finance, time, experience, or a workforce, innovators always lack one thing or another when they start a new venture. They probably could use more finances, time, knowledge, and a crew to create a unique experience. Unfortunately, they must deal with these shortcomings and find ways to overcome them.
- Looking stupid: Innovators look silly, if not absurd. I am currently working on an NFT project. It sometimes seems ridiculous to raise funds that way, but looking silly is what innovators go through, and sometimes, the projects look fantastic.
- Uncertainty: Innovators deal with uncertainty and the unexpected, and people and the economy despise uncertainty.
- Lack of trust: Nobody wants to trust someone because of a new idea. Innovators must convince people to invest time and money into something that does not exist yet. But it is challenging to gain the trust of people. More often than not, nobody wants to trust you until they see the project up and running.
- Rejection: Innovators deal with rejection from clients, investors, bankers, family, and friends.
- Little ROI: Being an innovator doesn’t mean you will have a great return on investment. Sometimes, yes, but it is not guaranteed.
- Time challenges: Innovators run on opposite times compared to traditional businesses and government agencies. Standard companies and government agencies set up a yearly or long-term budget and strategy, but the budget and plan of innovators are constantly changing.
A way forward
Despite all of these challenges, there might be a way forward. We need innovation. I don’t have an answer on how to make the obstacles better. Still, I suspect a lot of it has to do with how we as individuals and as a society are willing to look silly, take risks, fail, iterate, and trust innovators to come up with something successful.
Professor of Entrepreneurship, Dietmar Grichnik, made an excellent summary of the innovation method in the video: “The 10 Myths of Entrepreneurship”. For him, the entrepreneurial method differs drastically from the managerial method. A manager would ask:
“what are my goals, and by which means do I need to reach them? By contrast, the entrepreneurial method begins with a person’s unique means. These consist of their identity, competencies, and contacts.”
It also means that there is no “given” target. There is a range of possibilities and opportunities.
“It is like cooking without a recipe. The super-entrepreneur doesn’t choose a specific recipe and buys the necessary ingredients. Instead, she could look at what she can find in the fridge and then make up various possible creations!”
The idea of possibilities and opportunities is exactly what innovation is and why many pursue it. These innovators have the “mindset of innovation,” which can serve as the basis for successful creation. But the real difference between a successful and a failed innovation is not the mindset alone- it is the available resources, tools, and skills an innovator has. Below are seven ways that help make an innovation successful.
- Keeping an innovation mindset and perspective: People who embrace the innovation mindset are forward-thinking. They dare to be creative, take risks, and make mistakes. They aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo and push boundaries to achieve their goals and bring change.
- Building your network: Many successful innovators use their connections and networks to gain resources and opportunities, create interest, receive advice, or find team members.
- Access to funding: Whether internal or external, access to funding can increase the probability of successful innovation.
- Establishing a diverse team: Innovators must develop a team with diverse experiences and perspectives. People from different backgrounds, generations, and disciplines can create better ideas outside the immediate business landscape.
- Strong leadership: An innovator’s leadership style plays a significant role in successful innovation. A strong leader can define and communicate purpose and goals, prepare their team for change, and support as needed.
- Building trust: When innovators start, there is a lot of doubt, both from others and the innovators themselves. But successful innovation comes from trusting the creative process, learning from failure, and most importantly, one another.
- Creating a culture of embracing risks and failure: Innovators do not let risks and failure scare them away from innovation. They celebrate both successes and failures and take them as a learning opportunity. Successful innovators create the right environment to test, fail, iterate, and repeat.
To drive change means to accept that innovation works and measures success differently than the managerial method. There isn’t a cookie-cutter recipe to create solutions. Still, combining innovation and managerial problem-solving can be challenging because the measure of success and the ways of working don’t always align.
Adding to the analogy, while that method can make for an excellent new dessert, it will most likely first lead to a dinner nobody wants to eat. But maybe, if we are willing to look silly, fail, risk, iterate, trust each other in the process, and persist, perhaps we will end up with an incredible dessert one day. And on that day, being an innovator will feel amazing. It will make going through all the challenges worth it.