7 Brutal Truths About Innovation No One Wants to Talk About


August 10, 2017

by Carla Johnson

I recently shared a post on the brutal truths about creativity that no one wants to talk about, which resonated with many readers. As I’ve talked with people about creativity, they tell me that’s something they ‘aren’t.’ When I take it further get into the transition from creativity to innovation, they tell me that’s something they can’t ‘do.’ There are heavy stereotypes about creatives and innovators that people use as a self-defeating qualifier.

Just like creativity, many stereotypes about what makes someone innovative are false. From wearing the same wardrobe every day (Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg) to an unwavering morning routine (Benjamin Franklin, Gary Vaynerchuk), there are a great many myths to innovation.

Innovation is sexy. But it’s the hardest work you’ll ever do. The Amazon team didn’t snap their fingers and have drones appear out of thin air. GE employees don’t automagically come up with great ideas for leading their industry.

Here’s what the most innovative people know that leads to a path of perpetually great ideas:

1. There’s no fast track

Innovation is hard work. We hear stories of one-hit-wonder brands who identified a gap in the market and launched a first great idea. But for every one of those stories, there are hundreds of people who couldn’t get anything off the ground.

Identifying the unidentified need is only part of the equation. The other part is having the grit to stick to road blocks that come up along the way, whether that’s internal politics and external economics. Having the passion and drive to see things through in the long run will make the short term frustrations more palatable.

2. Discontent fuels innovation

When everything’s going smoothly, no one wants to rock the boat. If company’s doing alright with sales and customer satisfaction, why rock the boat? That’s just asking for trouble. But if the bus starts shaking and the wheels get wobbly, your competitors will blaze past you if you stay the same-old course of action. If everything’s crumbling and you’ve nothing left to lose, trying something new doesn’t feel so risky anymore.  That’s why economically flush times hurt innovation…there’s no looming pressure to look at things from a different perspective.

3. It’s hard

Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. The same holds true for innovation. It’s the grit to stick with things over a long period of time – when you experience failure – that matters. There’s lots of hard work, discomfort and failures before you get the right idea and execute it successfully.

4. Quantity matters

If you want a lot of great ideas, you have to have more early-stage ideas from which to choose. And it takes works to come up with a higher number of unique early-stage ideas. It may take 200 ideas to get to two that end up at the quality that’s right for execution. But had you not started by being willing to dig in and find 200 mediocre ideas to start with, you may never have ended up with two that made a different in the lives of your customers.

5. Quantity of ideas leads to quality ideas

This stockpile of meh ideas is the starting for the holy-cow-did-you-hear-that??? initiatives. If every idea has to be genius from the get-go, then you’re putting too much pressure on teams. And pressure slams the door shut on the inspiration behind creative ideas. The most innovative companies are fueled by nonstop ideas from employees across the company because they understand that before you get great ideas, you simply need a lot of ideas.

6. Iteration is key

The only way to transition from meh to holy cow!! is with the willingness to dig in, find the good behind ideas and evolve them into the next level of thinking. This is called iteration. Thomas Edison took meticulous notes throughout his career, often revisiting his earlier experiments as well as those of others. His coworkers often contributed ideas to his journals. This lent fresh perspective that Edison used as springboards to other ideas.

7. The pitch matters

It doesn’t matter how great the idea is if no one gets behind it. We all know people who come up with brilliant ideas that never go anywhere. It’s because they don’t know how to inspire the people we need to make things happen. A great pitch gets people as immersed in the story as possible. That’s something that takes time to craft, practice and perfect.

Are you interested in innovation strategies that uncover opportunities for exponential growth? Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help you develop a sustainable innovation strategy. You can also follow me on LinkedIn, and  Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.

Photo credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.