Are you brave enough?
Business and design are awash with the words “innovation” and “disruption”. It seems that a business will be left behind or abandoned if they’re not (at least talking or thinking about) innovating.
We’re told innovation and disruption hastens successful business, helping to establish a desirable and profitable brand. In many cases this is true, although it’s not guaranteed. Regardless, investors flock to would-be ‘innovators’ and ‘disruptors’—and for good reason. The businesses and brands who are truly engaged in pushing the envelope, through technology, experimentation, experience design and business models, are a refreshing reminder of what can be achieved with new thinking and different approaches. This is attractive on multiple levels.
The problem is we usually only value the outcomes because they are tangible and resolved; because they are easily understood and can be consumed as ‘successful innovation’. But the messy, scary, exciting and uncertain process needed to get to the ‘outcome’ receives less attention. Why? Because we are fixated with outcomes.
Traditional business is very measured, literally establishing metrics which are bound to KPIs, linear progress reporting and predictable results. While this is an acceptable approach for sustaining a business—underpinned by caution and consideration—innovation, disruption and change are the anthesis of this approach. They can only be measured (to a degree) with hindsight. And that can be a challenging concept for traditional business leaders to adopt, even in their rush to embrace innovation. It is far easier—and more certain—for people to focus on a successful outcome, one that is at the end of the process and has arrived ready-made to the market with an optimum solution. One that ‘shows the way’.
Creative consultant and strategist Blair Enns once recounted a story in which a client said they wanted to develop the ‘iPod’ of their category. Enns allowed a moment of silence before responding with one simple question: “Are you brave enough?”
Because that’s what it takes: courage, commitment, and investment (of time, resources and finances). Because innovation is largely the result of process. And while it’s an exciting process it is also filled with uncertainty, doubt—and failure. It’s a hard grind because innovation comes from experimentation, from exploring new and often uncomfortable paths. And it takes time. A lot of time. But in the scramble to be perceived as an innovator, many businesses naively talk as though they’re innovating every other week. The truth is, innovation—real innovation and disruption—takes time. Real innovation is a game-changer.
In our race to innovate, to disrupt before we are disrupted, we often overlook what this entails—the process. At the very foundation of this exciting and increasingly necessary pursuit, we must ask some simple questions in order to assess whether we are willing and able to embrace a culture of innovation: “Are we ready? Are we brave enough?”
And from there, it then requires a leap of faith—a sense of belief.