Innovate or Disappear
The world changes so fast. Industrial revolutions took several decades to spread, but nowadays disruptive innovations become available worldwide in a matter of months. This is the age of speed. The models describing change are no longer linear but exponential. If you are leading an organization, you need to redefine yourself in real time to keep up with competition that might not yet be known. The sustainability of your company may be at stake.
When we were kids, we all had the necessary skills to innovate: questioning, observing, associating, networking, and experimenting. Maybe because of education, the intensity of each is somehow lost during our youth, and when we become adults, only some lucky ones such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos can create companies that disrupt entire industries. Certainly, those inspiring leaders do not have an extreme performance for every skill, but rather a fruitful combination or the right DNA.
Innovators are usually continuous questioners who enjoy asking lots of questions that challenge the status quo. As we learned from the Toyota Production System invented by Taiichi Ohno, you must ask Why at least five times to find the real cause of a problem. Many managers tend to ask Why just once, which implies that they patch problems without any real change or improvement. Another good question is What if. Leading by questioning usually leads to new insights and directions that might have been previously disregarded because of fear.
Observe. Everything. With intensity. If we do that, new ideas might arise to improve the way we do things in our own company. We must see life as if everything was new and continue to be surprised by everything that surrounds us. Just like when you were a kid, when everything was so new it was challenging to keep up. Can you see things others can’t? You should never stop learning, and don’t be afraid of surprises that might be closer than you expect. Just open your eyes.
Many innovations come today from associating, i.e. connecting ideas from different fields into the one we know best. This is T-Type knowledge, where only a little is known about many different fields, and wide know-how of a particular area. The best innovations are located at the intersection of several disciplines. Some experts define creativity as the ability to connect things. So play around and enrich what you do with ideas from other fields.
Networking is also a key to successful innovation. Get to know people, and talk about their passions and things you could do together. Build trust among the people you know, and create something of worth with them. Certainly, people like you are easy to connect with, but people that are completely different might become your most innovative partners. Attend industry conferences (such as GALA’s upcoming event in Istanbul) but learn also from people in other fields. You’ll never regret it.
Last but not least, experimentation is the first step to making things happen. Wanna-be doers just think about their ideas, fall in love with them, but never go beyond that, creating zero value for society. If you want to achieve something and improve the world, you need to start playing, experimenting, breaking things, and asking for forgiveness rather than permission. This experimentation will help you validate your hypotheses, and will show you what works and what doesn’t. You never know until you try.
In my session at GALA 2014 in Istanbul, I’ll discuss how to add these innovative skills to your organization. In preparation for this session, you may wish to read the book The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen. And if you want to share your experience with innovation at your company, be sure to attend KnowledgeFest with me!