I am soaring above the clouds over the Atlantic. I’m on my way to New York for a summit of my fellow Citizen Relations digerati from the US and Canada. So perhaps it is natural my mind should turn to the often ethereal topic of innovation.
Innovation requires you to plan for what others tell you just can’t be done. This means you spend much of your time being labelled as, at best naive, and at worst a stubborn jerk or a dreamer.
In so many workplace cultures, the Alphas are considered to be those that ask the most difficult questions about what is put in front of them and constantly “keep it real”. This does not marry with innovation where you need people who are willing to step into the unknown with you, not rehash what has gone before.
If you are driving innovation, when you are not being beaten with the naive stick, you risk being beaten with the stick of bitter disappointment from others. You see a good porportion of your time will be spent telling those asking you for advice that there isn’t necessarily a new snazzy innovative solution at present to the challenge they want addressing. Or that you are still at experimental stage with a possible solution that could help them.
I’ve come to learn that in business people like to think they encourage and foster innovation, but on the whole innovation is used as a soundbite.
Business people just don’t like to hear:
a) I don’t know of anything to compare it to, it would be brand new approach.
b) Here’s the vision which would change things in this field, but it will take 6 months to generate the web dev plans /formulas / research to make it a reality.
I don’t blame anyone, just because pursuing innovation can be testing. In business, immediate profit (especially in hard economic times) whether it should or not, makes longterm innovation seem like a luxury. I say longterm, because very little innovation from conception to reality happens overnight.
I have the pleasure of working within two networks – Citizen Relations and EdC – who prize innovation, and within the group there is even a “Lab”of like-minded people dedicated to it (making and developing things 24/7 not just talking about them)- from small things like creating apps involving new tech that would blow your mind; to new frameworks for measuring marketing success, that makes Saatchi’s mould-breaking Lovemarks look like something out of the 1950s.
As my plane drifts quietly from one amazing business city to another, I would conclude that the greatest factor in successful innovation is not your company, your contacts, or the attitudes of those with the budgets. Although all these things can sting or stimulate the innovator. For great innovations to happen you have to start with YOU and your willingness to allow everyone to feel a part of innovative ideas from colleagues, to bosses, to clients. If that means dealing with sneery doubting questions, or simplifying complicated explanations to make them better understood or catchier, or simply accepting it wont be remembered that you came up with xy or z, then suck it up. Suck it up because when the desired amazing innovation comes to life, it will always have been worth the effort, the bashings, the humility and the ego put at risk to get it there.