This article was first published in the blog ‘The Way We change” co-authored by Nav Qirti and Reima Ronnholm.
What Kills Innovation
make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products:
innovat- ‘renewed, altered,’
verb innovare, from in- ‘into’ + novare ‘make new’ (from novus ‘new’).
Innovation is new ideas that create impact. Ideas that take form of a solution that is new, not to the whole world but to the context of the problem it is solving. Innovation is about creating a solution that is better, that brings some improvement to the existing problem, and a solution that creates certain value for the organisation, monetary or otherwise. Innovation is generative by nature. Innovation is about changing the existing.
When we look at innovation from the lens of this definition, it can be applied in a wide range of situations to solve a wide range of problems. Innovation doesn’t have to always be associated with something bombastic or revolutionary. (In fact all innovations are incremental in nature, as there are certain inevitable steps that build up to the final outcome - but more on that in another article)
In simple words, innovation is about new ideas. New ideas are the seeds of innovation. So what kills innovation or new ideas in organizations? Every time this question is posed, we get different answers. Invariably these answers, or innovation killers can be broadly categorized under three categories - Myopia, Monkey Mind and Inertia.
Myopia is near-sightedness. It is the inability to see beyond line of our sight. It is lack of foresight. It is lack of imagination.
Monkey Mind is the propensity of our mind to jump into solutions. This is inevitable as the human mind is wired to make sense of the world through pattern matching. We are wired to match any incoming information with patterns that already exist in our heads. These existing patterns are a result of our education, knowledge and experiences. When presented with a problem, we tend to find solutions by matching it with what we already know. Our brain is instinctively lazy. Or in other words, our brain is instinctively efficient. It automatically tries to fill gaps of missing information with what it knows.
In organizations this tendency to pattern matching is manifested as group think or expert think – ‘if most people in the room think this way, it must be true’ or ‘if boss or subject matter expert thinks this way it must be true’. One monkey jumps and the rest follow. This nips new ideas in the bud. For sure!
Inertia is our propensity not to act on an idea or solution that we may already have. Inertia is another potent killer, putting new ideas on the chopping block. You may have a new idea or a new solution but get bogged down by doubt or by the risk of failure.
It is not just individuals or smaller organizations that are affected by these three innovation killers. Even large organizations that have wherewithal and talent suffer from this malady.
We will explain this with a couple of examples. Do you remember the very first generation of mobile hand phones? I call them brick-phones. There used to be Ericsson and Siemens phones that I can remember. These first generation mobile phones solved the utility part of the service equation - they served the purpose of ‘communicating while walking’. But they were clunky and not very comfortable to carry around. They didn’t have a user-friendly interface (it was just one small strip of a screen on which you had to scroll horizontally to read text).
So it served the ‘utility’ purpose. Unlike a landline phone, you didn’t have to stand next to it through the length of the call. With brick-phones you could carry the phone out of your house or into your car and still continue to talk.
But Ericsson and Siemens missed the very important factor of ‘usability’ - that the phone should be comfortable to carry, it should have an easy to understand user interface with a simple & intuitive navigation. Nokia filled that gap.
But Nokia again missed the behavior change in people. Desktops were fast being replaced by laptops. People had this emergent need to check their emails while on the go. What Nokia missed, Blackberry understood. It created a product around this behavior. Blackberry was an email device through which you could also talk!
Yet again, both Nokia and Blackberry missed another unarticulated need, need of convergence, need to carry your computer with you, need to carry your camera with you so you could instantly capture and share moments that you relished. Apple did! This was a behavior shift towards instant gratification that Apple built its phones on.
In the above cases innovation killers are on ample display. Near sightedness makes you fail to see beyond your current markets or customers. You miss micro trends, changing behaviors, unarticulated needs, emergent and unripened technologies.
There is another insight here. Innovation is not a one-time thing. Even if you have been able to defy these three killers once (we also refer to these killers as maladies), it doesn’t ensure your continued success. Defying these maladies has to become part of your process, your culture and your day-to-day work.
Monkey mind is also on display in these cases, as organizational thought was governed by only one idea; utility in case of brick-phones, usability of current services - call & sms in case of Nokia phones, and utility again in case of Blackberry. It was groupthink! (“Why should I stick my head out”!)
Inertia sure was on abandon display. Do you think the Nokia R&D team had not figured out how to add email to a phone? Or how to make a touchscreen keypad easy to use? Or have a high quality camera in their phones? I am sure they had - but inertia was at play! Risk of failure, approvals, market research, financial implications of not succeeding, etc., etc. all must have played their own small and sweet part in the impending implosion that we all witnessed! We don’t want to change the existing. We don’t like to change what is working today, until the time it doesn't and it is invariably too late.
But all is not doom and gloom. If we recognize and identify the innovation killers in our respective contexts, catch early signals and address them in a systematic way, we can very well remain on the innovation track, and relive and ride multiple cycles of change through innovation.
How do we do it? How do we fight innovation killers?
Here are three simple ways. To tackle myopia we need to look at things differently. To tackle monkey mind we need to think about solutions differently. And, to fight inertia we need to learn to make things differently!
We’ll talk in more detail about the framework of Look-Think-Make in next article.
Ideactio is a Singapore Headquartered Service Design & Innovation consultancy. With a body of work from Public and Private Sector clients like Singapore Police Force, Accounting and Regulatory Authority of Singapore, National Environment Agency, TATA Steel, Hitachi to name a few, it has been consulting organisations in finding people-centred solutions to their complex problems. In Singapore, Ideactio has been consulting companies in sectors like F&B, Travel, Retail, Industrial/Manufacturing, Accounting and Education. Ideactio has an excellent track record of working on SPRING Singapore supported programmes (under CDG) like Business Transformation, Brand Strategy and Business Excellence/Service Excellence.
Nav Qirti is Principle of Ideactio. He has lived and worked in Singapore for past 11 years helping Singapore SMEs and public sector organisations innovate by design. He is passionate about applying people centred principles to solve organisational and business problems. This belief is well-captured in the quote : “If we take out the frills, every business is human business; being human-centered is not a choice, it is the imperative”. Nav lives in Singapore and spends his time in Asia and Europe, where Ideactio is setting up its operations.
Reima is co-founder of Palmu, a leading service design consultancy from Finland. He is one of the top service design practitioners in Europe having consulted renowned organisations across the world. Countries that he has delivered projects in are Finland, Germany, Sweeden, Turkey, China, India, Singapore, Kenya and more. Reima strongly believes that better customer experiences and services can only be designed together with the people who actually use the services, and with the people who work together to create them.