December 2017 Motivate

6 Ideas for Innovation

Written By: John Spence, International Speaker and Business Consultant

Recently, several of my  clients have asked how to make their company more innovative. Although this is not my area of expertise, I do have a few ideas that I think can help a company improve their innovation efforts.

Look for the second right answer.

I find it interesting that throughout our educational career we are challenged to always find the one right answer. Every time you take a test you either pass or fail by choosing the correct answer. However, once you get in the real world there is no longer one right answer, there could be multiple right answers to a problem. Often when I’m sitting in a brainstorming session at an organization someone will come up with a brilliant idea and everyone will say, “That’s it, that is exactly what we should do.” My counsel would be to say, “That is a fantastic idea, now let’s come up with two more ideas just as good.” This too is hard, and it takes a lot longer, but usually the team develops a better idea or the conversation helps them improve the first idea to make it even stronger.

Be tough on ideas and easy on people.

I learned this working with Microsoft, a company with incredibly bright employees who develop world-changing ideas, and one of the reasons they do that is they are relentless in attacking every idea to make it a better idea. No matter who puts an idea on the table, it is expected that people will remain professional and respectful to each other but ruthless on the idea.

If you want success, you have to fail.

Lots of companies talk about embracing innovation and supporting risk-taking, only to punish employees when they try a new idea that fails. When this happens, employees soon learn to only pursue the safest ideas, and super-safe ideas are rarely cutting-edge and innovative. To get employees to take prudent business risks it is essential that leaders celebrate reasonable failures and create a culture where people are excited to try new things. A great phrase that sums this up well is: fail forward faster.

Make new friends.

One reason companies are not innovative is they only look at their organization and their industry when trying to develop new products and services. The best companies look everywhere for great ideas. They visit other companies in completely different industries, they bring in experts, thinkers, artists – people from very diverse backgrounds to share their ideas and expand the thinking of the organization. Most big, bold ideas are developed from the convergence of seemingly disparate ideas that mold together to form a totally new idea.

Be a fast follower.

Most businesses try to differentiate themselves by creating compelling, exciting and innovative new products and services before their competition. I teach strategy at Wharton and this is one of the main points I emphasize as fundamental to strategic thinking. However, there are very successful companies that wait for their competition to bring out new products, then they look at the weaknesses of product and improve on them to bring something to the market that is not new, just better. A good example of this would be smart watches, the first ones to market were not well received, people like the idea but not the product. Which allow competitors to avoid the mistakes of the first smart watches in the market, build on the successes of the product and add new features that would differentiate their smart watch as superior.

Put your money where your mouth is.

Last, if you want innovation you have to invest in innovation. Taking a cue from number five above, all effective strategy is simply the allocation of limited resources. If you want to develop new and exciting products and services you must allocate time, money and people to research and development a robust innovation program. If you look at any highly innovative company their senior leaders demonstrate through their actions and investments that they want, no demand, that their people are constantly thinking, experimenting and pursuing market changing innovation.


JOHN SPENCE has been recognized as one of the top 100 business thought leaders and as one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. He is an international keynote speaker and management consultant and has written five books on business and life success.

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