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When I'm in a cynical mood, I sometimes like to compare corporate innovation to teenage sex....


Everyone talks about it, yet at the moment of truth the earth doesn't really move. When I'm really cynical, I think the +90% failure rate in innovations is actually doing our youth a disservice.
Still, taking a more positive view, I wanted to have a go at eight truths for "real innovators." There's probably more and you may not agree with all, yet as usual, I'm happy to learn.
Truth #1: Stop equating innovation to R&D.
While white coats are important, there's more to innovation than product & technology. That is why real innovators track every area that could give them a competitive edge and actively seek out areas their competitors have missed.
They introduce metrics to innovate against the customer experience, the processes, the business model of the company. They question every aspect of the organization, not just its product's performance.
Truth #2: Pay people to fail.
Most companies base their performance bonuses and promotions on being "successful." This means that if you've got a mortgage, kids and half a brain you're not going to stick your neck out on things that may go wrong.
Yet it is exactly the risky projects that lead to competitive breakthroughs and require the smartest people in the company. Real innovators understand this and figure out ways to reward people even if they fail.
Truth #3: Treat everyone as an innovator.
In most companies, less than 10% of the workforce is involved in innovation. Real innovators understand this untapped potential and set up systems to capture the thoughts, ideas, dreams and opportunities generated by the other 90%. They look at every concept and reward the individual who came up with it. They train every employee in the art of innovation. They give people time and space to develop pet projects and take them seriously.
Truth #4: Kill bad ideas quickly.
Structural innovation is about finding nuggets of gold in a pile of rubbish. Yet in organizations people sometimes fall in love with the rubbish they created themselves. This can waste valuable resources and divert the company's attention.
Real innovators understand this and establish processes to kill bad ideas quickly, without disparaging the people who came up with them. (Their next idea may be a good one.)
Truth #5: Launch first, worry about the shortcomings later.
Traditionalists want to get every aspect of an innovation absolutely right. The speed of today's economy however requires an "fast to market" attitude. Real innovators understand that the best school for product improvement is the market itself. That is why they work with pilot customers to fine-tune products and learn on the job, rather than making elaborate assumptions.
Truth #6: Don't believe what your customers tell you, dig deeper.
People are notorious for saying one thing to market researchers and then doing something else. Real needs lie beyond superficial market surveys and live in the realm of emotion. Customers are human, which means they have dreams, fears and frustrations waiting to be answered.
Real innovators dig for these deeper level thoughts and embrace them in the way they develop, introduce, package, sell and deliver their value proposition.
Truth #7: Don't try radical innovation, buy it.
Just like our body starts fighting any virus that may threathen it's existence, organisations annilihate any innovation which may undermine the status quo (just imagine the hypothetical scenario of a telco researcher trying to convince his bosses to introduce free VOIP before Skype existed). That is why real innovators don't pursue "radical" innovations themselves. They just buy them when a dominant design appears to emerge.
Truth #8: Mix elements that shouldn't be mixed.
Real innovators ask scientists to work in stores and involve the receptionist in product evaluation. They bring in artists, scientists, writers, philosophers and anthropologists, even if these people have no idea what the business is about.
Leonardo da Vinci built some of the most impressive fortifications of the Renaissance. Real innovators understand the art of being the Duke that had the foresight of giving a "painter" a military commission.
If you have any truths I've missed, don't hesitate to comment!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alain Thys is a founding partner of Futurelab, a marketing, strategy and business model innovation boutique which helps companies identify new profit opportunities in an ever more complex world.

In this role he also edits Futurelab’s blog, which is the first step to establish a co-creative community of innovators from business, science, politics and the arts.

Alain considers himself a storyteller and agent of change. His core skill is to make complex business issues easier to understand and help senior executives translate them into strategies that inspire their customers, staff and stakeholders.

In previous lives Alain has been in charge of retail and marketing at Reebok EMEA, done pan-European advertising & research at Mexx and as a VC was involved in 30+ start-ups ranging from European mobile payment systems to Indian industrial alcohol plants. The obligatory flirt with digital adventureland included two major dot-busts, and turning down the friends and family round in an unknown outfit called Netscape.

Alain is a regular speaker, has authored a number of seminars and in addition to occasionally ranting on blogs is working on two books he still hopes to finish before they’re out of date.

He is very happily married, has a great little son, and apart from his family he most enjoys cooking, the South of France and a good glass of Malt Whiskey. Like his role model Da Vinci, he considers simplicity to be the ultimate sophistication.


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