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3 Great Innovation Myths—Busted

lightbulb of innovation spreading light
Innovation isn't just a buzzword or a Silicon Valley patent, but a structured process that can turn good ideas into great realities, anywhere.

Innovation is one of the most hackneyed words in business today, overused to the point that no one knows what it means anymore. It’s something we expect all organizations to aim for, or at least to have printed somewhere on the company’s website or in a values statement hanging on a wall. In business, we define innovation as creating groundbreaking products, new services or novel ways of working.

Because it comes in many flavors and is so romanticized, innovation is often mischaracterized. Here are three great innovation myths to quash:

Myth #1: Innovation = Invention.

For many companies, innovation is about inventing a better product, like a faster electric vehicle, a new fruit variety or a breakthrough vaccine.

These companies aren’t wrong, but they’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity to innovate in other parts of the business, such as their business model, the way they market and sell or how they manufacture their goods.

A well-defined innovation vision and strategy can make it clear to employees what kinds of innovation are welcome—and that there are many types of innovation to foster. In a recent survey of ours, 52% of corporate innovators said that the lack of a clear vision was their top obstacle to success, so making things clear is ultra-important.

Myth #2: The hardest part of innovation is finding big ideas.

Companies put a lot of pressure on themselves to find the Next Big Idea, the one that’s going to turbocharge their trajectories or even turn their industries upside down. But most companies are already full of great ideas.

In our survey, just 6% of innovators said that finding great ideas was their biggest challenge. The real problem lies in selecting the best of the best ideas and then turning those ideas into reality.

Too many companies put too much energy toward ideation and then run out of steam when it’s time to do something productive with those concepts. They need an innovation process that doesn’t leave good ideas behind and that lets great concepts flourish.

Myth #3: We should look like a Silicon Valley tech startup if we want to innovate.

More than 99% of companies aren’t steeped in a Silicon Valley environment. And that’s OK because there are many ways to be innovative. What you see just south of San Francisco—the visionary genius of Steve Jobs at Apple, for instance, and the bottom-up idea machine of Google—are just two models of innovation.

While you may be able to import aspects of the Silicon Valley formula—such as worker autonomy and cross-functional teams—into your organization, they may be a poor fit. Companies must choose an innovation model that works for them, their history, their industry, and their organizational design.

How to do it right

Rather than fall for these myths, develop systems to inspire and manage innovation. Yes, on their face, systems appear boring, but they’re central to how real-world innovators succeed.

We interviewed 50 top innovators, from leaders of startups and nonprofits to leaders of giant firms like Microsoft and Levi Strauss, about their methods. They have a common three-step approach:

Aspire: Set a crystal-clear course for the innovation you want. How quickly should the returns come? How big must the prize be? How much risk can you take?

Build: Identify mechanisms that will keep you on top of industry trends and potential disruptions. Then make some decisions: When you have a good idea, what happens to it? How do you know when to stop working on struggling ideas and double down on winners?

Cultivate: Once you have Aspire and Build determined—the bricks of your structure—cultivate a culture that, like mortar, holds it all together in ways that is barely visible but critical to long-term success. Know what behaviors you’re seeking, model and incent them, and celebrate the wins.

Taken together, the steps spell ABC. It’s a simple but powerful process proven to work.

Innovation isn’t just a buzzword or a Silicon Valley patent; it’s a structured process that can turn good ideas into great realities, anywhere.


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