Misconceptions about innovation

Misconceptions about innovation

It’s not a goal but a journey, and you don’t have to be ‘creative’, just willing to learn

When we think about innovation, we think about companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. Companies like these have a reputation for coming up with new technologies and processes and turning them into products and services that people use every day.

We define innovation as coming up with new ideas and breakthrough products and services. This is true to a certain extent, but the reality of innovation isn’t simply about coming up with new products or approaches. Many people see innovation as an end-goal, but this is far from reality. People labouring under this misconception might conclude that innovation just isn’t meant for them or their organisation.

This and other misconceptions can hinder us from successful innovation initiatives. So let’s talk about what innovation really means.

The first misconception about innovation is that it requires us to be creative to succeed. Let’s first unpack the definition of the term. To be creative or have creativity means having the ability to come up with new and original ideas. But innovation isn’t about having the most original idea; in fact, it begins with understanding a problem and finding ways to solve it.

While it may require creative thinking to come up with cool ideas, it takes qualities beyond creativity to understand the problems at hand and finding effective ways to solve them at their core. Innovation doesn’t call for the most creative people in the world, it calls for people who continue to learn.

The second misconception is that innovation is an end-goal where we produce a finished product or service. Innovation isn’t a destination to arrive at, but more of a journey, a learning process toward finding solutions to customers’ real-life problems. 

The most important first step of innovation is to understand customers and the problems they are facing, and to constantly keep up with their changing needs. If we don’t understanding this, we cannot even think about beginning to innovate. Customers’ needs change over time and as the world around them changes; therefore there is truly no end-goal with innovation. Where there is change, innovation must follow.

The third misconception is that innovation consists of one-off projects. The truth is that innovation needs to be embedded in the culture of the organisation, as part of its everyday routine. In a similar manner as the second misconception, innovation shouldn’t be looked at as a final target.

The fourth misconception is that innovation is all about coming up with new products and services that no one has ever thought of before. That might be a by-product of the innovation process, but the purpose of innovation isn’t just to become a factory that churns out new things that people don’t necessarily need, or that don’t answer their real-world problems.

Innovation can also involve revamping existing products and services to better serve the evolving needs of your customers. Just look at products from Apple such as the iPhone or MacBook. While new and improved functions and updates are introduced regularly, it is still basically the same product line. 

That’s not to say that Apple does not come up with new products. But if it were to rely only on coming up with new products, it would lose out on the business derived from answering the needs of existing users of its existing products. Every product and service has the potential to become better, and that is still part of the innovation process.

The fifth misconception is that innovation is all about creation. While creation is part of innovation, the key part of innovation is learning. Failure comes with nearly any venture we embark on, but how we take the lessons learned from those mistakes and failures is what helps us move forward toward being able to answer the needs of the customers.

The final misconception is that innovation is only about technology and machines. Innovation, as previously mentioned, is about understanding customers’ problems and finding a way for the organisation to solve those problems. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve technology, but that can be a part of it.

The most important point to remember about innovation is that it’s a journey, and needs to be part of the culture embedded in the everyday actions of the organisation. The biggest reason it doesn’t work out for many organisations is because we approach innovation as a project rather than part of the everyday practice of learning.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC – Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at [email protected] or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa. Talk to us about how SEAC can help your business during times of uncertainty at https://forms.gle/wf8upGdmwprxC6Ey9 

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