When I was four years old in kindergarten and couldn’t read yet, we all had our own symbols so we could find our lockers. Mine was ice cream. Clearly, it was memorable since I can still remember it today. If “innovation” was a kindergartner, what would be his/her symbol?
If Google is a good indicator of public opinion, then the answer would be a light bulb. I found a lot of different, creative versions. Let’s apply this idea to “entrepreneurship.” A quick search yielded similar results: a light bulb. That would likely lead to confusion.
My point here is that innovation and entrepreneurship are often considered interchangeable. Social media and Hollywood movies have created an alternative world where claiming to be an entrepreneur sounds as mesmerizing and intriguing as being in the business of innovation.
This article is going to take a deep dive into the unglamorous side of the topic—the practical implementation of proven steps—while trying to clear up some popular myths that can cause more harm than good.
Ideas + Competency = Innovation
There is no shortage of ideas, but having the right people to execute them is imperative. Truly successful companies focus on solving concrete problems and hiring a skilled and diverse range of employees. Creating a sense of purpose and a clear vision is as critical as turning those differences into synergy instead of a liability.
Often there is a significant gap between what a team is capable of and the results they actually deliver. According to interaction gap research, that exact number is 79%. That is how much potential is lost in a team depending on how psychologically safe and motivated they feel to collaborate and contribute.
Competency = Capability
To paraphrase Gareth Davies in Responding to the Crisis: A Leader’s Handbook:
Capabilities belong to an organization. By structuring work, it can perform a task by combining the work of individuals. As the organization repeats the process it learns, gets better and gets faster. As an organization becomes practiced in delivery and nuanced in its application, the capability is said to become more mature. Capabilities can also have qualities of resilience and robustness.
Competencies belong to an individual. These are the activities that a person can perform because they have learned how and practiced the skills required. It is the job of management to develop and organize the competencies of a firm to create the capabilities required.
An immature system is where the capabilities of a firm rest only upon the competence of individuals. This occurs when there is no enhanced capability created by combining different competencies.
Innovation lies inherently at the intersection of competency and capability while it also depends on the speed at which they can be deployed.
Innovation = Business
When I created our coaching certification program based on my research, I thought that people would queue up automatically if I had a solution that could help them future-proof their clients’ businesses and careers. Although it is partly true, what mattered more was the ability to future-proof their own businesses with it.
Innovation must be investable. This is a concept I learned from Jonathan Fuller, a director of advisory of a global company dedicated to delivering a responsible energy future. This is what I had to realize as a coach and mentor: It does not matter how good an idea or framework is—if it is too complex for people to understand or apply in their life, they are not going to do it, so those solutions are not going to have any positive impact.
Commercial innovation is more important now than it has been for a long time—as seen in changing technology, rebuilding from the pandemic, financial outlook changes, work from home and supply chain issues. Having said that, just because something is needed, doesn’t mean it is wanted. Introducing innovative products and business models into an existing operation can face rejection or be undermined by the wrong approaches.
There is no one guaranteed path to innovation, but there are some proven steps that can make its outcome and the “overnight success of entrepreneurship” so glamorous that we forget about all the conflicts, sleepless nights, doubts mixed with excitement and sense of urgency.
These are the three most common obstacles our global clients tend to experience, independent of their industry, and the approaches you can use to overcome them:
• Clarity: Team members are often on the same page, as the saying goes, they are just reading different books. Creating a crystal clear vision for the project seems obvious, yet, often it is missing. Knowing what that vision looks and feels like on a corporate level, why and how it serves the greater good and who is able and willing to make it happen reveals what is required from team members.
• Collaboration: In a gig economy, there is not much time for the classical forming, storming, norming and performing approach to build trust. Create personal and professional snapshots into the mindset of the individuals in the context of the actual team. This can speed up the process so diverse experts can excel as a team. The more they know themselves and others, the more trust is created and the fewer personal conflicts they have.
• Comfort zone: Working with people who think and behave differently can be uncomfortable. Expecting others to conform to our norms often results in clashes of common senses and the potential failure of the project. Try to gradually expand their comfort zone and enhance their behavioral flexibility so they can respond instead of just reacting. You can use a variety of programs or methods to help with this.
The real risk is not the time and money invested in innovation, but the belief that the future is going to be just a slightly different version of the past.
The article written by Csaba Toth was originally published on Forbes here.
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