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Bringing chaotic discipline to Innovation

What do innovators have in common with the likes of David Bowie? Innovators are special people. Like Bowie creating unique, iconic music, innovators possess the unique ability to see connections where others don’t, and use this gift to try and solve problems that don’t seem to have a straightforward solution. 

As is to be expected, creativity plays a pivotal role in innovation. Without it, there can be no innovative solutions. However, creativity needs to be targeted; it must solve an actual problem; it has to be beneficial to someone. Otherwise, there will only be creativity without actual innovation. 

In order for innovation to come to life, a process needs to be in place. 

The process of innovation

By nature, innovation evades clear-cut boundaries. However, one thing is for certain: innovation is not linear. 

When innovating, you have to step into the unknown; in other words, you must navigate ‘the fog of uncertainty.’ There will be a lot of back and forth. You will think you have finally found the holy grail, only to realise it was a fake. You will need to retrace your steps regularly to correct mistakes and address the problems you failed to consider. In short, the innovation process has no certain structure. 

Additionally, as we have discussed in the Innovation Room before, innovation must be purposefully organised to succeed. Absent discipline, and innovation runs the risk of losing purpose. However, it is important to note that…

Within the discipline, there should exist chaos.

Even though the process is key to consistent and successful innovation, you must also mix in a little messiness. In order to truly innovate, you need collective intelligence. You should try to use the expertise of people from different backgrounds, which can be achieved by making the challenge at hand non-context-specific.

There really is such a thing as knowing too much about a certain topic. Once you reach that level, your field of vision can become narrow, and that’s exactly what makes the introduction of chaos into the innovation process necessary. 

Knowing what hampers innovation can also help businesses unleash their true innovative potential. 

The three most common barriers to innovation

1. Time: innovation requires time. Digital innovation or transformation is not an overnight process. An innovator must dedicate their time and energy in order to plan and execute a definitive strategy. Innovation is part of company culture: as you are transforming a certain process or implementing a new solution, buy-in from all stakeholders is required. Give them time and agency to adapt and share knowledge toward innovation. Plus, in most cases, innovation is incremental rather than disruptive and loud. To use the old cliche, innovation is like an iceberg, most of which is invisible. It is often the accumulation of consistent, small innovations that leads to long-term growth and increases the value that the target customer receives. 


2. Money: Sometimes, your ideas seem, at first glance, to be too expensive to work on. However, this is often a misconception. Part of planning is estimating how much of an investment your innovation will need, and dedicating these resources fully to this new venture. Another highly beneficial strategy you could employ is using the methodology of agile development. It entails testing fast, failing fast, and learning fast, with the aim of avoiding costly mistakes and making innovation financially accessible. 


3. Know-how: Some businesses are reluctant to pursue certain innovations for fear of lacking the knowledge and expertise required to realise their ideas. However, there is more than enough know-how out there. You need to work out the things you know and those you don’t and then try and find people, whether from your organisation or not, who can help you fill the gaps. 

When to avoid innovation

While it is true that businesses often avoid innovating due to fears that can easily be allayed, it is also important to know when you shouldn’t innovate. 

As a general rule, you must only stake what you can afford to lose on innovation. Every new project must have a clear business case, or you will end up leaking value. It is evolving to the point where your innovations become self-sustaining. After all, there is no point in pouring money into innovation without getting a return on investment. 

Digital innovation also requires motivation and perseverance. The effort, resources, and mental strength to push through the barrier of change are critical to maintaining consistency and delivering an innovative strategy or idea. Innovation needs consistency and focuses at all times to be as successful as possible. 

3 Big Barriers to Innovation

Want to learn more on this topic? In Episode 24 of The Innovation Room, 3 Big Barriers to Innovation, our CEO, Somayeh Aghnia hosts Dr. Jo North, the Managing Director of The Big Bang Partnership Ltd, spotlighting how to break through the barriers to innovation. Find out what's stopping you from evolving your business with innovation.

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