Innovation - The Cutting Edge

By: Open Future  06-Dec-2011

Our future depends on it

There's a lot of nonsense written about innovation.  Innovation is an important topic, but it's usually given lightweight and flippant treatment.  There is more to innovation that thinking outside the square or brainstorming for ideas.

First of all change and innovation are closely related.  Most of the progressive change in our lives has an innovative source.  Sadly not all innovation and the change that comes from it is desirable.  That gives us another clue about innovation.  Where innovation introduces something new, we cannot be sure how the change will affect us in the long run. 

Innovation tends to be driven by strong individuals.  You can see why.  Somebody has a problem and they begin to search for a solution.  When they solve the problem they usually need to convince others that the change is needed.  The innovator becomes an advocate.  Sometimes the innovation is adopted readily, but most innovators find that opposition or simple incomprehension is more common.  It's usually hard to get people to accept innovative ideas. 

Who are the Innovators?

Some people are by nature very curious and very active as innovators.  They tend to ask more questions and to persist longer in the process of finding suitable answers.  For the innovator, innovation is a process of asking questions, seeking a solution and learning.  Learning how to understand a situation.  Learning how to do things.  Successful innovators learn to be persistent.  In terms of time to market, many innovations have a very protracted gestation and production cycle.  Often as long as 30 years.  Stories about innovators often portray the process as some sort of heroic quest.  That's not realistic.  Innovation is often just hard and uncertain and messy.

Most people with an innovative flare have many projects "on the go" at any one time.  Some of these projects are actively on the figurative workbench, but most are sitting partly done on a nearby shelf.  To an outsider this may seem to be a messy process.  But innovations once started often reach a stage where they can't be finished.  There may be technical reasons, or marketing reasons or financial reasons.  Some barrier to progress brings the project to a halt.   It's easy to imagine that a good idea or some focused work might overcome that barrier, but usually there is no quick easy answer.  A project might lie fallow for weeks, months or years. 

Breakthrough's do happen, but they take work, and sometimes working on a different project altogether is the best way to proceed.  One's creative ideas tend to feed each other.  The process of working on an unrelated task can often set off a train of thought that is needed to solve some problem that previously refused a solution.  Meeting a new person who shows interest in a project might bring it alive again.  Some times too, change in society, change in production methods, a change in the availability of goods of a certain type, might reduce production costs or create a market interest that was previously lacking.  A project can become interesting again because of things that happen about you, and not because you did anything in particular. 

Readiness for Opportunity

It's often said that opportunities only exist if you have previously made yourself ready.  It's a fact that only those who are prepared, or "ready" can "see" new opportunity early.  People who work in innovative ways on many projects may find that past work that "failed" has prepared them for a new opportunity that suddenly presents itself.  Ask a better question, work in a purposeful way.  Don't be too disappointed if success is slow coming, keep on with the process of preparation.  Keep trying to do things that will be useful or valuable.  Learn.  At some stage what you've been doing will find it's place in the scheme of things.

Put in this way you can see that we are all innovators to some extent.  We are working on things that interest us. We learn as we go along.  This process does prepare us for new opportunities. 

Veech Innovation Model

Innovation is not just about ideas, although ideas are important.  Innovation demands an audience, people who will help to produce the product in the first place, and people who will use or buy the product in the second place.  Innovations that only satisfy the innovator may be creative, and even useful, but if the benefit stops there, then little was achieved.  So every innovator becomes involved in the process of selling the idea to others.  Making the original concept attractive to others may be as difficult as coming up with the original idea.  First you need a small team to help you perfect the idea, to make it into a potential product.  Then you need to find the means of production and distribution and sale.  Finally you need repeat customers.  Bringing an innovation to market is a difficult trick.  The Veech Innovation Model gives those principles more structure. 

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