Innovation is not a fairy tale

Innovation is not a fairy tale. I think it is worthwhile stating that because I meet a lot of people who think exactly that. We seem to have that romantic notion about innovation and how innovation comes about. At the center of the fairy tale is “the right idea”. We often pretend that in a sea of wrong ideas you have this one idea that in contrast to all of the other ones is the right one. That is just not how innovation works!

When you look at two ideas before one of them has become a success, it is often very difficult to say which one is the brilliant one, and which one is the stupid one. They might look very similar. There is no way for us at that point in time to tell which one is the right idea.

If you take an example of a big corporation that wants to go after a new segment in the market, three of the five business units in that corporation have a different view of how they should go about it. The head of R&D has a different view than the head of Sales. All the different perspectives are justified. Everybody has their proof points, everybody has their assumptions. In the end, only time will tell who has got the right idea. Every one of these ideas has sponsors and people that lead and drive those ideas. They try to get resources, fight over head count and R&D funding. It has nothing to do with a fairy tale! It can become quite rough – if I had to chose a metaphor for the process of innovation, it would be a boxing match! Why does that matter?

princess in a gown and crown posing as a boxer with boxing gloves

It matters a whole lot, because the mindset with which you approach making something new successful is key for your success. I have seen too many people walking into this naively. Once they get headwinds or when they are confronted with people who don´t believe in their idea, they give up quickly. That is not the kind of attitude that you need when you want to make something new successful. If you have the expectation that what you are getting yourself into will be a boxing match, you have much better chances of success. And make no mistake: the boxing match will be decided in those tough moments when you get a punch straight to your nose, you almost faint, but you decide to continue because you believe in what you are doing. It is those moments, those defining moments, in which your idea actually has a chance of becoming an innovation.

When you decide not to lead an established business, but to make something new successful, you have to have that tough mindset. Innovation is the last link of success in a long chain of setbacks!

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