After a disappointing fourth grade report card, my mother said something that has stuck with me to this day: “The biggest curse in the world is that of unfulfilled potential.”
I have come to the conclusion that the world of innovation is filled with unfulfilled potential. This problem is increasingly important because innovation is transforming how we work, live, communicate, and play. While it is easy to just dismiss the increasing rate of corporate failure as dynamic capitalism at work, much is lost when companies with strong teams, robust technologies, and powerful capabilities disintegrate.
While innovation is often cast in mystical terms, research clearly shows that it is a learned skill that can be mastered and managed. Decades of academic research and work by leading-edge practitioners highlight the path to success.
It starts with a common understanding of what innovation is. I define it as “something different that has impact”. Innovation doesn’t live in labs. Something different can be a new way to market, distribute, or organise an internal process. Innovation isn’t an Ivory Tower activity either. No impact means no innovation.
The most important word in my definition is the first one. You have to do something. As an analogy, consider my six-year-old son Charlie’s effort to learn how to ride his bike last year. We could have read countless books on the subject. We could have watched hours of YouTube videos. We could have discussed the theory of bike riding. But until Charlie got on his bike and did something, he knew nothing about riding a bike.
Today Charlie is a competent bike rider and, with practice, he could become a skilled one, just like how with practice anyone can become a proficient innovator. So enough reading, get on your bike and do it!
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