More mistaken beliefs about innovation…

In our previous post we focused on the first of the five mistaken beliefs business leaders have about innovation, as listed by Professor Freek Vermeulen from LBS here.

Even though the five mistakes are very interesting we will only focus on one more:
“[Business leaders believe] that because everybody had always done it this way, it is the best way of doing things.”

The definition of innovation as “the implementation of ideas that meet new requirements, needs, or adapting market desires,” contradicts the tendency to act like everyone else or align to precedent. Curiously, the vast majority of business leaders – 84% according to a McKinsey Global Survey – recognize innovation as being very important to their companies’ growth strategy but cannot apply innovation into their own activities.

To innovate is to break tradition and viewing the world from another angle requires openness to new insights or points of view. This is very clear in business model innovation (low cost airlines, Cirque du Soleil, iTunes, etc.) but also applies in product or service innovation. Even in sports we can find several examples of innovative behaviors that revolutionized performance like the high-jump Fosbury Flop technique (1968), Tiger Woods’ change in his golf swing or José Mourinho’s motivational and confrontational team-building techniques.

As Mr. Vermeulen points out, the greatest innovation often comes from challenging industry convention.

Unfortunately, the fact that business leaders are not open to new perspectives is often resultant from two other behaviors: risk aversion and inability to listen to other people. We have already explored the danger of risk aversion when concerning innovation efforts in another post so let’s have a look at the inability to listen to others regarding innovation.

The idea here is not to force business leaders to do whatever comes to anyone else’s mind. After all, the last mistake pointed out by Frank Vermeulen is believing the customer, which highlights the risk that stems from listening to people who do not know what they need or want and require others to tell them what to consume. As an example, does anyone believe consumers would have said they wanted a car when asked how to improve the horse drawn carriage in the late XIX century? They would probably say they wanted faster horses and more comfortable seats but they could never imagine a car (at least the way we see it now).

This in mind, business leaders should listen to input from their closest colleagues (typically C-Level executives). However these individuals are not owners of the truth and are prey to their own biases.

It is therefore a good idea to allow others to contribute to the discussion and decision-making process. How many examples of great innovation have come from front-line employees, middle managers and suppliers? Countless. It is this diversity of backgrounds, knowledge and experience in large communities of stakeholders that brings value to the process of innovating.

The power of collective intelligence allows organizations to find new solutions and alternative possibilities. At Exago we have been working for years to bring everyone to the epicenter of the innovation processes, making them feel listened to and valuable. Our model has proven to change behaviors, engage communities, and improve bottom-line results.

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