Lost In The Sauce On Innovation

Why do the very best intentions on innovation end up going downhill? There is more than enough urgency to go around -- so why can't we just pick a problem and fix it?

I think it's because we human beings tend to get lost in the sauce. That is, we start out on the right foot, but ultimately miss the point as we fall into five kinds of traps that distract us from the huge and life-changing goals that we can and must achieve:

1. We have a fixed mental model around what innovation looks like. In our agency, company, organization, institution, or what have you, there is a political and cultural environment that dictates what you can and cannot think, say, and do. It closes down the mind to disruptive and radical solutions that can actually work where the current approaches fail to.

2. We get fascinated by sparkly new toys. For example, social media is a toy. It's great and valuable and important of course. It's the new town square, it's a place where people are talking. But in the end it is the table upon which the main dish is served. You've got to focus on the main dish. (But toys are safer to talk about when there is disagreement about the cost of food.)

3. We try to adapt a bureaucracy that's inflexible. Big, established systems can be Too Big To Fail. When it comes to innovation, they most definitely are. Innovation defies all established ways of doing business. Trying to sprint forward while dragging a freight train behind you, repairing widgets as they pull apart this way and that, is no way to innovate.

4. We don't know what to do about culture. For one thing people move slower than the speed of thought or technology. For another they run the very real risk of getting left behind as organizations progress to the next phase. We have difficulty managing the very rapid pace of innovation and the very slow pace of human change at the same time.

5. We don't really believe that we can do it. Despite all the incredible progress that human beings have made on this planet over the past century, we treat every new approach and invention like a huge shock. If only we had a little more faith in our ability to think our way out of problems, maybe we'd be more successful at new ways to come out of our problems.

Ultimately I think there is only one way to truly innovate. And that is to support continuous and rigorous analysis and critique of all things existing. We have to be free thinkers, and support the right of others to be free. Then when we reach consensus, we know that it's real and not just a bunch of useless groupthink.

* All opinions my own.