Innovation: IDTIMWYTIM

By LPS.1 (own work) [CC0],
via Wikimedia Commons
I'm going to join a new sports team: The Stanley Cups. Our mission will be to Stanley Cup. We'll have a Stanley Cup hub, we'll hire the best Stanley Cup leaders and the best Stanley Cuppers. We're going focus on Stanley Cupping, using Stanley Cupping tools and Stanley Cupping methods, and we'll Stanley Cup hard every time we get out there. I predict that at the end of our first season of Stanley Cupping, we're going to have huge success and generate a lot of Stanley Cup.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?

Ok, now let's try that again but let's use "innovation".

I'm going to start a new team of Innovators. Our mission will be to innovate. We'll have an innovation hub, we'll hire the best innovation leaders and the best innovators. We're going focus on innovation, using innovation tools and innovative methods, and we'll innovate hard every time we work. I predict that at the end of our first year of innovating, we're going to have huge success and generate a lot of innovations.

Did you hear that? That's the sound of someone not saying anything useful.

They're not providing clear direction, and focusing on entirely the wrong thing: the outcome.

You can't be successful at a sport by talking about winning. You have to do the work. You have to train, experiment, compete, lose and win. You have to study what works and what didn't, course correct and go again until you find that combination of fitness, output, teamwork and sometimes even luck that leads to your desired outcome. A great hockey player is that outcome of years of effort and a dedicated team of players, coaches and supporters. If they're lucky, there might even be a Stanley Cup. But that's not the method, it's not the process; it's a possible outcome of all that effort.

So why do we treat innovation any differently? Innovation is not a method. It's not a defined process in and of itself1. It's not a tool or a place. It's an outcome. It's the result of doing something new.

In fact, you only know if you're being innovative when you start delivering. When you're defining, researching, designing your product/service/idea, you are influenced by everything around you. Which means that your result could be newer but not necessarily ground-breaking. Only when the thing that you're building is fully formed will you know if it's different enough to be considered innovative.

Innovation can definitely be a goal but, depending on how conditioned your team and your organization is, it might be a lofty one. And declaring over and over that you're suddenly going to start innovating isn't going to make it happen.

Stanley Cups aren't won by talking about it. You need to set up your people to actually do the work, the hard work, from which innovations can be born.

1Some of you might argue that the definition of "innovation" is "the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices and methods", thereby a process. However that process is not defined in and of itself, and we are abusing the term by treating innovation as a thing that can materialize if we just say the word often enough.