Let’s bust this innovation myth! This is the first in a series of common myths that cause confusion about innovation, and create barriers that block leaders from taking action to move their businesses forward. Let’s start with a big a one – innovation only comes from genius inventors.

Innovation myth

This myth is popularised because we constantly hear all about ‘genius inventors’ in the media. We hear about famous names such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk who are the modern-day versions of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. Each introduced an ‘invention’ that changed the way people live their lives.  

Consequently we put them on a pedestal and they take on an almost mythical and heroic status. This propels the idea that it takes a ‘special kind of person’ to come up with incredible ideas and innovations that transform the world. 

Of course, this is true to an extent, because we remember the ‘front people’ and celebrate them for giving us the lightbulb, the telephone, the iPhone and electric vehicles. But the crucial point here is that these are the exceptions, not the rule. 

You do not need to have geniuses in your business to innovate. The reality is that innovation usually comes from the discipline and activity of a group of people that bring different ideas and  perspectives together under a collaborative method of innovating. 

Even Edison, is famously quoted as saying: 

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Today this applies in the complex world of business technology. In today’s organisation it’s pretty much impossible for any one person to have all of the skills and knowledge required to innovate.  

The toaster

A perfect example comes from designer, Thomas Thwaites, who famously attempted to build a toaster from scratch.  He wanted to build it using only raw materials. 

Thwaite created a simplified list of materials that he needed such as copper, steel, plastic, mica, and nickel. Then he attempted to mine, refine, and otherwise process the raw materials to make the components. 

Unfortunately he found out the hard way that it was impossible. He said that it takes an entire civilization to build a toaster‘, even though we know what a toaster is and what it looks like.

Of course Thwaite was referring to all the cumulative ideas and skills required to make use all those raw materials before even beginning to create the humble toaster. It’s amazing that he got as far as he did in his project.

Myth busted!

Thwaite’s experiment serves as an important reminder – that innovation is usually a group effort to generate the momentum and skill to translate ideas into reality. 

It is a combination of knowledge and experience that you only get from a group working together. The myth that it’s all about the lone genius having a ‘eureka’ moment is hugely misguided. The reality is that it’s more often a collaborative effort. Collaboration is where the magic happens.

Idea discovery

In today’s environment, this might mean you need to stop looking for that one individual with that one idea. There is likely untapped knowledge and experience already in the business!

Our client ACG, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, went on this journey.  ACG was founded 60 years ago by two brothers who were the textbook example of the mythical founder ‘genius-inventors’.

By 2020 ACG was a multinational manufacturing giant in the hands of the next generation of the family.  They had great vision, but they were also humble enough to know that they needed help to make innovation happen. 

We helped them to create a collaborative culture for innovation with a new employee value proposition. This encouraged people to break the hierarchy and come forward with their ideas.

The leadership gave permission to everyone to share their ideas by adopting a mantra of:

“Don’t show me small ideas; no idea is too big.”

Next, we helped them to rapidly accelerate new value propositions in their portfolio. We did this by breaking down siloes in their business and swarming teams around customer needs.  

Innovation approach

We use a proven innovation approach for businesses that need help to get started. Helping organisations to:

  • design to the budget and timeline available
  • embrace controlled creativity
  • progress in a well planned and agile manner
  • unlock benefits fast
  • embed ongoing successful innovation processes and behaviours into the organisation

Collaboration

What we’ve found is that collaboration is the secret to success and creating partnerships or business ecosystems can be a good solution. 

UK Government research suggests more and more organisations are doing this:  

In 2018-2020, 58% of broader innovator businesses reported having co-operation arrangements, compared to 49% of businesses in the 2016-2018. 

So, if you’re unsure about where to start, find out more about our approach and meet our Strategy, Leadership and Innovation team here.

Or why not get in touch with me and let’s have a chat.

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Andrew Salmon