The essence of innovation is the process of exploring new ways of doing things, new thoughts, and experimenting. By this very act it can be said that one needs to let go of the known, safe and secure in order to risk failure of a new approach. It is a matter of risking the proven for the sake of discovering a better solution.
The return on investment for this risk is related to improved quality of life, more efficient uses of resources, increased competitiveness, improved health conditions, more effective medical care and overall better society. The price for these improvements comes in the form of monetary expenditures and failed attempts at innovation. Research requires rigorous experiments, designs, attempts and for every innovation there is often a long history of work.
Individual discoveries, inventions and innovations have been preceded by as many as 10,000 failed attempts. Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the light bulb failed many times in his experiments. Yet, he continued to try new materials for the filament inside the bulb, looking for the one that wouldn’t burn out right away. He was rewarded with what we all take for granted today, electrical lighting.
Innovation within corporations is very similar. In order to launch an innovative product that will capture significant market share you have to try new things. Sometimes you fail, in fact most times you may fail, but the times you succeed will more than pay for the effort.
However, innovation is suffering in North America today. Don’t get me wrong, research is still being done in labs, garages and sheds but it is not financed as much as it was before by federal governments. Innovation is also suffering in the corporate world where a policy of risk aversion has dominated to such a large extent in the last few years that it is stifling.
If you are lucky enough to have a full-time corporate job the last thing you’re likely to do in this economy is to risk failure and lose that job. Yet, that is exactly what is needed in order for our nation to remain competitive and continue to prosper. Could you imagine what it would be like if you would not try anything new because it could fail? Imagine you’re stuck and traffic not willing to turn off the main road for fear that you may end up in a dead end? Well then, stay stuck in traffic! That is the same thing with corporations and countries in a downward spiral.
The problem is that in government bureaucracies, banks and other corporations the penalty for failure is so well executed that the employees with access to the greatest resources and therefore greatest potential for innovation are the exact ones that avoid it. Permission to fail is so rare in North America today that innovation is suffering from it.
If you want to stimulate innovation and leverage it to improve the standard of living, keep industry competitive and create jobs for everyone then you have to adopt a philosophy of permission to fail. Rather than penalizing those that try new things we should penalize those that are so fearful of failure that all they see is potential failure.
That is not to say that risk management is not important, it is very important. But, there is a difference between risk management and risk aversion. Risk management is an essential function, necessary to identify potential risks in the form of unexpected, negative and unwanted consequences so that they can be mitigated through planning, structure, strategy and other approaches. However, when an organization tries to avoid risk it is a philosophy for failure.
Rather than have 10 risk managers for every innovation, we should have 10 innovators for every risk manager. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an organization of accountants, lawyers, and actuary types. Yet, it seems that is exactly what we have right now and what has contributed to the liquidity and credit crunch of 2007-2008.
One thing is for sure, that the companies that are doing everything they can to cut expenses rather then redefine their business model or improve on their efficiencies will not likely be the rising stars of the future. On the other hand, the companies that come up with even one solution that is in demand and using the latest technology are the most likely to launch the next billion dollar venture.
The latest mega successes have been based on a singular ideas. For example, Twitter, Groupon andZynga started with a simple idea. Twitter stuck to one idea and one idea only because they dominated the niche they created and integrated with the strongest partners, thus solidifying their market presence. Zynga on the other hand increased the sophistication of their original online game and then expanded into new themes of the same basic concept.
Ask yourself, do you want to play it safe, hanging on to what you have for as long as you can or do you want to follow in the steps of the most successful industry leaders and inventors in history?
Give yourself permission to fail and see what happens in your life. Encourage a philosophy of permission to fail within your organization and see how innovations can appear throughout.
Throughout history the success of nations has been based on their people’s ability and aptitude for innovation. If it were not for the English long-bow the English would not have been as effective against the French during the Hundred Years’ War, especially in the battles of Crecy (1346), Poitiers (1356), and the famous Battle of Agincourt (1415).
In modern day innovation continues to be the mechanism by which to build societies and organizations. For example, MicroSoft’s success has arisen out of its development of a user friendly platform for the personal computer, Research In Motion built an international business and for many years has dominated the corporate cell phone market because of its innovative solution to protect the transmission and storage of data.
Innovation is about doing something better (cheaper, quicker, stronger, faster, farther, more effectively, etc.) than the way it is presently being done. Ultimately, in the business, military and even political arena it is about the ability to outperform the competition. With innovation comes spin-off benefits that include: improved quality of life, better safety, job creation, development of manufacturing, increased export and an overall improvement in national economy.
In many cases, it was one individual that came up with the idea behind the innovation. Such individuals are called inventors and although it may seem to many that inventors are born to be innovators, empirical evidence shows that average individuals can be turned into inventors, and managers, leaders and administrators into innovators.
Inventing is a category of innovation. Another category of innovation is found within organizations and among leaders and administrators. Innovation within organizations is just as powerful as inventing. Improvement in product design, delivery of services or even managing of operations can sometimes produce as much competitive advantage as creating a new invention. Though there is a significant overlap between 1) training of inventors and 2) training of innovators within organizations the challenges and focus of the two does require two different training programs.
INNOVATION AS AN ECONOMIC TOOL
A country’s ability to design, manufacture and market innovative products is a significant determinant of its ability to compete internationally. With the creation of new products and technologies support industries develop, such as design houses, tool and die shops, testing facilities, manufacturing facilities, repair shops, legal services, accounting services, banking services, administrative services and much more.
Often economies become reliant on a specific sector (oil) or outsourcing for foreign customers. This can lead to dependency on others and often softens the motivation to diversify business and industry. It is very important for countries to diversify their economies. To do this, it is necessary for people to learn to be innovators of new products and services which can stimulate new business. Diversification often helps companies and even countries gain world recognition as a “go to” place for new, original and innovative ideas and services.
CREATING AN ENVIRONMENT OF INNOVATION
The ongoing debate by psychologists as to whether an inventor is born or trained is rendered irrelevant when examining how to stimulate innovation within a country. It is true that individuals like Leonard DaVinci have been able to create a great wealth of inventions and contributed to innovation throughout the ages. However, it is also true that you individuals can be trained and turned into inventors with the ability to bring products to market. The Inventors Course, offered out of Toronto, Canada in collaboration with Venturemind Corporation offers a one week training program that promises to turn anyone into an inventor (details: info [at] metroactive.org). There is also an online version of the course for those that would like to receive the training over the internet.
Venturemind is now working with partnerships to bring both the Inventors Course and Innovation Program to countries in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa as economic development tools. These programs are a quick and cost effective way to product jobs. Proto-types for new inventions are usually created within a month of the course.
With the commercialization of new inventions, jobs are created almost instantly. Usually individuals are contracted at first to assist with things like design, delivery, packaging and later on to help with manufacturing and even research and development for product improvements or even new products.
Innovation doesn’t just create the very tangible financial and economic returns, it also contributes to a populace that is happier, has more confidence, is more involved, motivated and with a positive attitude towards the future. What better way to stimulate a struggling economy?