"Innovation" is no longer a half-empty word on a mission statement. For millions in the technology industry, it's the core of their being.
It's worth mentioning that while the words "innovator" and "entrepreneur" often go hand in hand, they are not synonymous. By definition, an entrepreneur is someone who organizes, manages, and assumes the risk of a business or an enterprise. This means he/she could be in a traditional business or dream up their own. An "innovator" is an individual who introduces a new idea and, if they're lucky, makes an impact that becomes a cornerstone for other innovations.
In 2009, the Harvard Business Review conducted a six-year study that focused on determining just what factors makes an "innovator." They discovered that true innovators have a high level of creative intelligence, which means that they utilize a combination of listening, ideating, testing, and networking to bring forth their ideas.
Cases of identical twins separated at birth who were outlined in this study indicated that only one third of our ability to think creatively is genetic. The other two thirds of the innovation skill set come through learning--first understanding a given skill, then practicing it, experimenting, and ultimately gaining confidence in one's capacity to create.
Recent studies have named millennials as the most creative generation, which probably has a lot to do with the fact that they grew up seeing creative innovation all around them. They had apps to design, videos to compile, music to make -- and the ability to see wider potential in any given object than their parents. Phones, for example, however smart, are now incorrectly named. A 2016 survey by Deloitte showed that almost one third of all UK smartphone users never actually use their "phone" to make calls. And this is a worldwide trend.
What was once an object with a determined function has now morphed into a world of possibilities. Our smartphones are our cameras, watches, flashlight, music player - and that's before connecting them to the web. As IoT technology innovators make strides towards making more inanimate "things," such as toasters, furniture and children's toys intelligent; millennials will be further exposed to limitless creativity. This can certainly influence the mind with the power of possibility.
Whether you're a millennial or not, you probably want to brush up on your creative intelligence if you want to stay ahead of the pack. Innovation is becoming a necessity to many industries and those who stay relevant already understand that solutions are changing as fast as innovators get a bright idea.
Y Media Labs, for example, builds technology solutions for enterprise clients who want to stay on the top of current trends. And if they want to keep their clients ahead of the curve, they have to stay way ahead of the curve themselves. I sat down with Ashish Toshniwal, the company's CEO, to talk about Innovation and how to harness it. Here's what I learned:
You Need to Understand Innovation Itself
"The best methods to ignite innovative thinking is first to be aware of how innovation can impact your business. Once you understand that innovation is not just a cliche term and something that will help your business bypass your competition, then you can start the process of innovative thinking," says Toshniwal.
Understanding innovation is the key to unlocking its potential for your business. A study on innovation by UK's Cambridge Judge University, commissioned by AT&T, found that there are six degrees of innovation present in successful innovators in all industry sectors globally. They range from meeting customers' needs by making tailor-made products and services, to harnessing the power of data to identify these needs. It's easy see how you might break down the concept of innovation into bite-sized, actionable strategies when you have a clear understanding of it.
It's Always Going to Be a Learning Process
That study from Harvard Business Review was certainly spot on when it comes to the way we learn. Creative thinkers can't just draw from a bottomless well - they're getting their information from a variety of sources. If you want to be an innovator, you have to get your hands dirty, as Toshniwal explains.
"The next step to ignite innovative thinking is by brainstorming unique ideas and executing on a few of them with the expectation that these products will not be production ready. Getting your team to see AND play with these concepts is critical to helping moving your company forward."
Most innovators don't get it right on the first attempt, but they learn from their mistakes until they reach widespread product adoption. Just think about Instagram. Its founder, Kevin Systrom, originally made a geolocation app which met with little market success. Realizing that he would need to adapt to to meet customer preferences, he went down a different path and focused on filtering photographs instead. Instagram is now one of the most widely used social media platforms in the world.
Get Good at Predicting the Future Fast
You can't be an innovator if you create lateral innovations that don't move your company or your industry forward, so you need to be able to look into the future. Y Media Labs, for example, has a full Innovation Lab devoted to hypothesizing and testing future technologies.
"We first brainstorm several technologies that are advancing at a fast pace. Artificial Intelligence is one of the areas we believe is the most misunderstood technologies, but can create the biggest impact if executed properly," says Toshniwal. "We take big AI ideas and then break them down into smaller pieces to create concepts and align them to industries that can benefit from visualizing this innovation." His team of designers and engineers create concepts ranging from face recognition technology for retailers to apps that integrate with Tesla cars.
It's clear that if you want to be an innovator or apply innovation to your company, you'll need to get creatively intelligent. And this is not something that you need to be born with.
Take a look at world problems and see how you can come up with sustainable products that minimize waste. Keep an eye on the business models, such as peer-to-peer, or products that are truly tackling customer pain points. Make use of predictive analytics and big data to discover consumer patterns that allow you to craft targeted offers. Get prepared for some of your ideas to flop and others that need improvement. It's a continual learning process. Above all, make sure you understand that weaving innovation into your company is about so much more than adding it to your core values page.