How to make sure you’re innovating for the right reasons
Innovation is a prized value for many organizations, but it doesn’t always work. When innovation fails, it’s often for predictable reasons. So how can you avoid the common innovation traps and make sure you’re innovating for the right reasons?
Back in the ‘80s, videos were all the rage. Yes, those archaic black plastic VHS cartridges that now line thrift-shop shelves were the hottest new thing in communications technology, and everyone with a product to sell or a message to promote wanted to make one. In those days before YouTube, there were few ways to distribute a video; you could get a TV broadcaster to air it for you, arrange a group presentation, or actually deliver it to an individual in hopes they’d watch it themselves.
Yet numerous organizations went ahead and commissioned their own video, without first asking how it would reach the target audience. I hate to imagine how many high-priced contracts were drawn up with videographers for videos that ended up forgotten in boxes at the back of storage rooms!
The Right Reasons to Innovate
These days, videos are obsolete, but communicators are still making the same mistake as they leap into Facebook or Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest just because they’re new, exciting and popular. What’s the common mistake? They’re innovating for the wrong reasons.
Innovation is a normal part of the life process. Every living creature sometimes faces a choice between change or stagnation… even extinction. Yes, there are times when your corporate culture needs an overhaul, but making change for the sake of novelty is a risky proposition.
Innovation and Vision
When you’re doing innovation right, it flows seamlessly out of your corporate vision. For instance, when one of your vision-directed goals is to communicate a particular message, you must first identify the target audience (or audiences), and then do the research to identify the most effective communications channels for reaching that particular group. The answer might be Pinterest, or it might be a cardboard lawn sign, but you’ll only know if you do the analysis and planning first.
Also, it’s easy to forget that innovation isn’t finished when you first make it happen. You need to evaluate the innovation—whatever it is—and then tweak it over time to make it really work for you. That’s how you do innovation right, and when innovation and process work together, nothing is more powerful.
The “Why” Game
A quick litmus test for testing an innovative idea is the “why” game. It’s so simple, a child could do it (and in fact, they do!) When someone makes an innovation suggestion, ask “why?” Then question the answer. And repeat. For example:
- “We should be on Pinterest.” “Why?”
- “Because it’s popular.” “So why should we be on Pinterest?”
- “To reach Pinterest users.” “So why should we be on Pinterest?”
- “Because it’s popular with women of all age groups.” “So why should we be on Pinterest?”
- “Because they’re one of the target markets we identified through our visioning process.”
Now we’re getting somewhere! This is where an intelligent analysis of the idea can begin, which will start to tell you what kind of research and planning you’d have to do before deciding whether to take the idea further. Yes, innovation can be powerful, but only when it’s dictated by your vision. (And if you’re feeling you need to revisit your vision, help is at hand. Adriana Girdler’s pocket book The Value of Vision can help you get started.)