Demystifying innovation: The three most common myths

Jerel Lee

Principal UX Designer

10 min read

You may have heard of the failure rate of new products or services, depending on the industry, ranging from 35% to 90%. Yet innovation is heralded as the lifeblood of organisations, the quintessential driver for organisations to grow and become/remain profitable. Bearing these in mind, this article attempts to demystify some common myths of innovation.

Myth 1: Innovation only comes from a fixed place/person/time

To innovate is to take an existing product/service and fashion it into something new. This differs from an invention, which seeks to create a new product or service. It could even be looking at something existing with new eyes, called vuja de (the opposite of déjà vu).

This also means there is no prerogative on the ownership of innovation. History is replete of employees within an organisation who were ahead of the adoption curve and sought to innovate, only for their efforts to be stymied by existing hierarchy/ organisational politics. Blockbuster, Kodak and Xerox often come to mind these were companies who had employees coming up with innovative and potentially disruptive products/services, only to be dismissed or ignored. The crux of this supposed conundrum is how organisations should recognise and encourage innovation before they become irrelevant in the market (or even to their customers)?

Verdict: False

Myth 2: Structure as confining and limiting

Speaking of organisational hierarchy/structure, a prevailing notion is that an organisations structure limits creativity, and by logical extension, innovation. On the contrary, research on design thinking, organisational design and governance has shown that a robust decision-making infrastructure helps provide the necessary guardrails such as aligning purpose and channelling focus on the innovations needed.

With culture on the forefront of todays business objective, it is imperative that organisations take a long-term view of creating structures that facilitate the collaborative behaviours between innovators and traditionalists, intrapreneurs and employees, artists and soldiers. This means aligning policies, procedures and processes to enable the generation of ideas, creation of working prototypes and ultimately, their commercialisation.

It could also take the form of investment of time or financial resources, such as Googles internal innovation reviews where product ideas are presented to top executives or Johnson & Johnsons Innovation Centres where entrepreneurs collaborate with scientists on pharmaceuticals, medical device technologies and healthcare products.

Such organisational changes allow organisations to pivot and emplace structures to not only remain relevant but stay ahead of their competitors. Recent turnarounds include Microsoft, Best Buy and Hasbro.

Verdict: False

Myth 3: ‘We are not creative enough’ or a similar variation

The common belief is that we are either not creative enough or have had our creativity schooled out of us by the time we reach adulthood. Yet researchers and psychologists refer to creativity as a muscle, one which requires constant exercise or risks atrophying. Creativity has also been recognised as the origin, the wellspring of innovation.

Part of being creative is also to explore, and this involves questioning, observing, networking, experimenting and associating behavioural traits that have been identified as crucial to enabling innovation. Embedded within these traits are a sense of curiosity, a willingness to try and a need for feedback.

In this day and technological age, right-brain traits of empathy, creativity and understanding are prerequisite employee skills for businesses to differentiate from their competitors. This urgency to acquire right-brain talents is exacerbated by the increasing pursuit of purpose in our lives (thus driving the war on talent), outsourcing of work to cost-competitive countries and mounting use of automation.

Creative companies such as IDEO and Lego recognise the value of creativity and have built creative play into their methodologies. Meanwhile, traditional management consultancies such as Accenture, IBM and McKinsey have either acquired or hired creative talents and agencies in an effort to scale and specialise thus competing by offering a fusion of technology, strategy and creative.

Verdict: False

Stay tuned for more on how you can innovate in YOUR company. In subsequent articles, we will explore topics such as tools and exercises that your organisation can effectively utilise to encourage innovation, how you can best manage your innovation process and the measurements that you should be aware of.

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