Innovation Is a Journey

By Tarak Modi Print this article Print

How cutting-edge enterprises stay ahead of the competition.

Principle 2: Innovation is a journey, not a destination.

Innovation is an iterative process requiring continuous refinement that builds on previous successes and failures. In fact, Art Fry, the co-creator of Post-it Notes, describes innovation as a “numbers game in which you might have to go through 5,000 to 6,000 raw ideas to find one successful business.”

Companies that are successful at innovation realize this. For example, Google’s philosophy of “innovation, not instant perfection” is what allows it to explore ideas by launching them early, iteratively learning what the market wants and gradually taking the idea from being good to being great. 

Principle 3: Innovation is “where no one has gone before.”

Most executives would give almost anything to “fix” their innovation process. It seems intuitive that if the company is not innovating enough, there must be something wrong with its innovation process. However, as Adam Richardson, a creative director at global innovation and design consultancy Frog Design, points out in his book Innovation X, “The problem is not innovation; the problem is the problem.”

Richardson contends that efforts to innovate are thwarted by “X-problems,” a new class of 21st century challenges posed by an increasingly global, competitive economy that defies conventional planning. Dealing with such problems requires out-of-the-box thinking and a willingness to face tough—sometimes uncomfortable—questions that challenge the status quo.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Bhaskar Chakravorty, a partner at McKinsey & Co. and a faculty member of the Harvard Business School, explained that constraining factors can be the impetus for innovation. For example, Cadbury India, now a subsidy of Kraft Foods, wanted to sell chocolate in a market where temperatures are routinely above the 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This motivated Cadbury to develop Cadbury Bytes and Chocki, which have melted chocolate in a casing of caramel that is not vulnerable to heat. These products are now “hot” sellers around the globe.

Innovation can be spurred by imposing constraints where none currently exist. Indian industrialist Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Motors, challenged his engineers to design a car to retail for the equivalent of $2,000-$2,500, making it affordable
for moderate-income families in India. The result was the Tata Nano, a model for affordable, no-frills cars worldwide. 

This article was originally published on 2011-12-07
Tarak Modi is a seasoned IT executive, certified enterprise architect and author of 70 articles and Professional Java Web Services.
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