Several years ago, McKinsey reported that only 6% of managers surveyed in their Global Innovation Study reported being satisfied with their company’s innovation performance. Only 6%! You might expect that our innovative capabilities have improved since that time. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. Accenture’s 2015 Innovation Survey found that “most [companies] struggle to generate the returns they seek from their innovation investments” with 72% often missing opportunities to exploit under-developed areas or markets and 67% describing their organizations as more risk averse.
What is holding us back?
Too many of us believe in The Eureka Moment. You know The Eureka Moment. There are two universal versions of it. In the first, a creative genius has a spark of inspiration out of nowhere. And, the next thing we know, he is the hero whose invention changes the world as we know it. In the second version, a team has been working hard for months. All of a sudden, someone on the team accidentally hits on the answer they’ve been searching for. Again, this person is lauded as the hero and the team finds unparalleled success.
Why has The Eureka Moment impeded our ability to innovate? Because it perpetuates the two most common myths about innovation:
Innovation is random
You’re either born an innovator or you’re not
Myth #1: Innovation is Random
Innovation is often linked to a fortuitous set of colliding circumstances – to being in the right place at the right time. We rarely hear success attributed to a thoughtful, planned process of innovation. But, more often than not, it is the planned process that generates innovation, not a random, fortuitous set of events.
Innovation occurs when the right combination of environment, skills and hard work are intentionally brought together. In other words, innovation is an organizational discipline just like any other. Any organization can become adept at innovation by building a strong foundation. Strategically assemble the appropriate organizational structure, culture, skill-set, processes and incentives and the result will be a foundation that nurtures and consistently generates innovation.
Procter & Gamble is an ideal example of approaching innovation as a business discipline. In the early 2000s, P&G put a systematic approach and supporting infrastructure in place to cultivate higher levels of innovation. The result: P&G tripled its innovation success rate and doubled the size of a typical initiative.
Dispel the myth that innovation is random. Focus on your innovation infrastructure with the same deliberate planning you use to build your operations, finance and marketing infrastructures and you’ll create a nurturing foundation.
Myth #2: Natural-Born Innovators
The second myth perpetuated by The Eureka Moment is that innovators are unique, mysterious individuals. They are born with a talent the rest of us don’t possess and, often, don’t understand. Some organizations are lucky enough to find and hire them while the rest of us get along as best we can.
The truth is very different. Several research studies have confirmed that innovators are successful because they have learned the skill of innovation. That’s right – through training and practice they’ve become proficient at innovation. Study after study confirms that only 30% of our ability to innovate originates with our genetics.
When we cast-off the myth that individuals are born innovators and accept it as a learned skill, we are able to see the wide range of paths that can build the innovation “muscle” within our organizations. No longer is it based on the luck of finding a unique individual. It becomes a skill-set just like any other.
So, next time you're tempted to believe in the myth of The Eureka Moment, remember that any organization can become adept at innovation. Strategically and intentionally build a strong foundation and support that foundation with training and practice. You and your team will be on your way.
(For more information on the myth of natural born innovators, I recommend The Innovator’s DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gergersen, and Clayton M. Christensen.)