Talking about innovation and doing it are different things. The innovation hype has produced many rhetoric experts. But what does it really take to be innovative? These questions led me to develop a simple framework to help entrepreneurs and business leaders understand how innovation works. I call it: the innovation cycle. There are four stages to it and they are:
Questions: Innovation starts here. If no one is asking questions, nothing gets better. Hence, questions are the root of innovation. It’s usually not a big idea or budget, but a simple question. “What if?” “Why is it?” “How about?” “Why?” The innovation hype makes people skip this step. Often, people are busy looking for the ‘big’ idea. Well, innovation is in the small questions.
Vulnerability: Generally, we are uncomfortable with inquiry because questions make us vulnerable. It forces us to think deeply – especially about our blind spots. When vulnerable, we feel out of control, look or feel stupid and our egos could be crushed. This is where innovation is fought and often killed.
People know that, most times, change is good. They understand the benefits of innovation. But usually, they can’t stand the discomfort of vulnerability that comes with the innovation process. Questions will reveal weaknesses and people don’t like it.
That’s why you may be perceived by your boss as having an ‘attitude’ when you start questioning their business decisions. This is the emotional aspect of innovation which should be taken seriously. It is one reason a perfectly good idea is fought or crushed and we wonder why. Perhaps, someone feels challenged by vulnerability.
Learning: If you’re lucky to arrive here, innovation is likely. At this stage, you’ve survived being vulnerable and you’re ready to unlearn and relearn. If a business leader is able to fight through vulnerability and its associated emotions, suddenly the mind opens up to a new world of possibilities.
This means you no longer view questions as a personal attack. You admit that you don’t know and you’re willing to know. Your ideas are challenged and put to the test and you’re fine with it because you know you’ll grow.
Change: Innovation hasn’t occurred if nothing changes. The process is supposed to produce a different, better way of doing things, no matter how small. Change is the proof of innovation – a sign that you’re learning and growing.