There is some controversy around a school in Sweden, which has made iPads available to students. The concern is that kids with iPads, won’t bother to learn hand writing. The question is: Is handwriting an old technology that we should be prepared to let go of?
Innovation is not just about inventing new stuff, it also requires letting go of the old. This happens, fairly naturally at a generational pace, but sometimes we need to innovate faster than that. The businesses that are best at innovation are the ones which have cultivated an innovative environment and culture.
Creating an environment for innovation is challenging for many businesses because it runs counter to many of the things that are required for day to day business. For example, innovation likes unstructured space and time. While more standard areas like delivery and execution prefer time and space to be structured.
Historically businesses have got around this with so called “Skunk works”, however these often become so detached from the run of business that few of their innovations are implemented.
The most innovative teams are inspired by a sense of purpose that matters to them. They are also fans of the product. If they are not already fans of the product the first step in innovation is to ask how would the product need to change for them to become fans?
Innovators are unaware of the boundaries and/or confident in their ability to overcome them. Lack of experience is often good for innovation, it is one way to avoid the kind of “group think” that closes creativity down reflexively. Another way to avoid group think is to bring together lots of diverse expertise, personalities and backgrounds and make sure everyone knows each others passions, experience and expertise, so that they know who to go to. Innovators create a culture of exploration and openness, which supports the asking of foolish questions, experimentation and the inevitable failures as part of the path to success.
There also needs to be lots of space to read, chat, explore, walk and do other things that don’t require too much brain capacity. We are often at our most creative when we are processing an idea in the background, while doing something relatively simple. We can be busy and creative – if we are fully focussed on the challenge, however it is hard to expect people to be creative when they are busy with “normal” work.
One of the most critical aspects is to create a path for new ideas, so that everyone knows where to go with an idea and how to pitch it. If the idea is accepted, those who came up with it may want to have the opportunity to lead, or at least be involved, in it’s development, without the risk that they work themselves out of a job once the project is complete (or if it is canceled).
Great innovators are also early adopters of other people’s innovations. The most innovative environments are likely be equipped with the latest relevant gadgets, furniture, imagery and so on.
Visioning – articulate the end point you really want to create, without considering how to achieve it, that comes later.
Go for walk and talks and other activities that require minor concentration.
Study other innovative companies – Read: Fast Company and Wired, watch TED and other similar channels. Also explore oblique – history, different businesses etc and make links, look for innovations in one sector that can inspire innovations in your own.
Build quick rough and ready prototypes, trying stuff out is great for inspiration, for communicating the idea and for proof of concept.
Innovation requires determination and resilience however it is wise to only share ideas with people who are supportive until they are strong enough for scrutiny. It is also important to be inspiring and persuasive when communicating the innovation outside the inner circle of those involved.
Develop the why? (not just a conventional business case). Conventional business cases can be very limiting, not every innovation needs to have a short term and direct financial reason for existing. Your innovation might make sense in ways which are not immediately commercial – and that is OK.
Innovation is not just a matter for the innovators, it is also about the market. If we are too far ahead of the market, there will be just a few dedicated fans and early adopters to support us. If we are too late, we are just another bandwagon jumper copying the innovators. Successful innovations are the ones that are just far enough ahead of the curve to be exciting for a wide enough audience – but not too far ahead.
Are we ready to let go of handwriting yet? I am – but I might be on my own.
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