One of the constant struggles that entrepreneurs face is the question of whether or not they are doing innovation "right."  This concern illustrates two important points.  First, the level of emphasis they place on innovation, recognizing the need to create something of  real value, and wanting to do it well.  Second, the absurd amount of emphasis we place on doing innovation, as if there is only one correct way to do it, or as if there is a proven approach to innovating.  Unfortunately a lot of dogma and rigidity has emerged around innovation.  Innovators get caught up in wondering about how to innovate, rather than simply getting on with the work.

I love it when people ask me this question, because it's easy to answer. I typically ask them if the work they are doing or the results they are creating seem uncomfortable or unusual.  Then I ask if they understand the needs customers have and how they might go about filling them.  If the work seems unusual or difficult but is solving a challenge that customers want solved, then worry about the outcome and not the process.

What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits

I've been reading a book that liberally quotes Dean Kamen, the serial entrepreneur and inventor of such products as iRobot and the Segway.  He constantly reminds the reader that while we have a lot of standards, most were created by people.  Other than the speed of light, Newton's three laws, and some laws about thermodynamics (far more technical than we need to pursue here), everything else is up for interpretation and should be constantly evaluated.  His point is that we get too caught up in standards, conventions, and other constraints that we ourselves created and can easily take apart.

What we need to do is set aside our beliefs and ingrained habits and explore, discover, and experiment, regularly and often.  This divergent activity will uncover opportunity. Then we can confirm customer needs and value propositions about the opportunities we discover.  All that's left is whether or not it makes sense to create and market the solution, which is a capability and business decision. 

Skinning Cats

As my grandmother used to say, there's more than one way to skin a cat.  I never understood why anyone would want to skin a cat, but the analogy applies here.  There are many ways to innovate, some well defined and applicable in many situations, some less defined or applicable in certain situations, and some purely valuable in the moment.  Management philosophy teaches us that in any setting or facing any challenge there must be "one right way" of doing any task.  While that may be true for regular, mundane tasks, it isn't always true for innovation.

Unfortunately we often become more focused on how to do innovation correctly rather than worrying about getting the right insights and understanding the change those insights may introduce.  This isn't to say that you should enter any innovation activity without worrying about your methods and tools.  Clearly some planning and definition helps.  Just don't get so wrapped around the axle that you fail to get started doing something new.

Published on: Dec 7, 2017