We hear a lot about innovation these days, but what is it?
Innovation is imagination applied. And by applied, I mean it takes energy. Imagination, without the energy and force of will to achieve behind it, is nothing more than an idea. And ideas blow around like tumbleweeds in the desert, drawing our attention briefly and stirring up some dust, but accomplishing little else.
We have all known the idea-person with a reputation for underachievement. The individual that is a wellspring of ideas, but ultimately, erodes the energy and finally confidence of those he or she initially inspired. A likable entertainer and enthusiasm builder but, in the end, the provider of no greater outcome than a carnival game. These individuals are well intended, but lack the resolve and stamina necessary to achieve results.
An innovative idea is the result of encountering or identifying a problem, challenge or need. Specifically, to innovate is to make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products. Innovation, therefore, can be framed in another context – problem solving. Being an innovator sounds a lot sexier than being a problem-solver, but in fact, they are one in the same. Even an item as innovative as the iPhone simply solved a problem – ease of use and/or efficiency. The iPhone was hugely imaginative, but it would not have become a reality without a heck of a lot of work, and, of course, financial investment.
A successful innovator needs more than imagination, they also need the following:
Belief – There is no single ingredient more important to successful innovation then belief in the idea and that it CAN be achieved. No matter how big or small the idea, if the level of belief does not rise to the level of electrified enthusiasm there is little chance of success.
Inspiration – Rarely does innovation happen in the vacuum of individual effort. A team is usually required to transform an idea into reality. And, inspired enthusiasm provides energy that motivates a team.
Tenacity – Tenacity is persistence with conviction of purpose. Often, the grander the idea, the more tenacious the effort required to see it become a reality. Aside from the energy to push past and sometimes through the inevitable naysayers, big ideas inevitably run into big obstacles. It will be the innovator’s enthusiastic conviction that provides the catalyst for inspiration, shared belief and purpose.
Patience – Meaningful progress often takes time. In today’s world of accelerated timelines, quarterly earnings calls and increased desire for immediate gratification, the personal conviction to persevere may be the most difficult obstacle for would-be innovators to traverse. For without the patience to persist many ideas wither in the mind where they formed.
It is easy to assume that technology in some way has diminished the need for the very human traits listed above, but it is not true. Technology and new communication tools have impacted the way we share ideas. They make them visible, give them a broader voice and provide an audience for concepts from the brilliant to the absurd. But, one thing has not changed; it still takes an Innovator to manifest thought into reality. It is interesting that, for all the media attention about technical advancement and its potential, it still takes wholly human qualities to innovate.