What is innovation?

I don’t know about you, but I love to create things! In fact, I feel more alive, happier, and on fire when I am using my creativity and ingenuity to make something unique. It’s just fun! In my last blog on famous failures I told you about how I crashed and burned making a television show that ended up being #1 in the ratings (never quit).

Another thing that I had a lot of fun creating was an innovation game called Boiler Room. That game was used to help first responders develop skills to adapt to threats. To my complete surprise, over 50,000 people played that game and every time I just laughed hysterically as I watched them try to solve the problem. What they didn’t know was that I designed the game scenario similar to the Kobayashi Maru training test in Star Trek: its a no-win scenario and what made me laugh was watching everyone die trying. That is until the joint chiefs of the Singapore Ministry of Defense played…and broke the rules! I loved it. They won the game in 42 minutes by breaking the rules.

They were innovative! So  what do we mean when we say something is innovative? I think of innovation as a combination of creativity and ingenuity. This video of Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Prank is a darn good example.

Here’s my left-brain formula: Innovation = 1/3 creativity + 2/3 ingenuity.

It’s also 1/3 inspiration + 2/3 perspiration, which is slightly different from the first formula, but nevertheless provides important clues to understand the innovation process.

Creativity and inspiration comes from the heart and touches the soul. In the most simplistic terms, the ‘concept’ must fulfill hopes and dreams, or overcome pain and suffering, or alleviate fears and frustrations. The ‘idea’ must hit the binding force, the primordial nerve, and fill a deep need (let me make this clear-the idea is not motivated by the money, that’s the outcome silly goose). In the case of Aladdin’s Prank, it makes us laugh and gives hope.

But having a creative or inspirational idea is insufficient to be an innovator, for the implementation phase requires perspiration and ingenuity. This is where the mind comes into the picture. Aladdin was incredibly ingenious in how he made that flying carpet look like it was really flying! Bravo my friend. I hope you didn’t use all three wishes on that.

So you see, innovation is a rare combination of heart (creativity) and mind (ingenuity). I say rare because it is difficult to find this in one business unit, let alone one person. The idea lifts you up and gets you all excited (inspiration), then it takes you down to your knees, begging please, during implementation (perspiration). Making all this happen requires determination. Just thinking about all this can make a would-be innovator start to perspire…or run away.

Innovation is not for the feint of heart (I smell that courage word again, seems like EVERYTHING takes courage).

I could stop here, but I would be remiss if I didn’t share one more important tip: there are two kinds of innovations, linear and radical.

A linear innovation is the combination of ‘things’ that already exist, but are combined in a new way, that adds new value. This is what Aladdin did. He didn’t invent the song, outfit, or skate board. He took all these things that already existed and turned them into something new, that added new value. Steve Jobs did the same thing with Apple’s iPhone. Linear innovations are ~ 98-99 percent of all innovations, and they can be products, services, strategies, or structures.

On the other hand, a radical innovation is the creation of something that changes consumer behavior and industrial patterns, and that spells trouble, right here in river city (showing my age). Examples include the transistor, the television, and the world wide web. Radical innovations are very rare, 1-2 percent, and they are very difficult to implement. As they change industrial patterns and consumer behavior, there are a lot of rice bowls that get destroyed, so the head winds are strong.

If you want to be an innovator, you might want to go stare in the mirror and slap yourself in the face. Hard. On the other hand, if that made you laugh, you just might have the right stuff.




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