Your ability to solve different and new problems with the same parts (assets) and people is a measure of how innovative you are.
A couple of months back, I had a Skype call with one of my favorite thought leaders on the subject of Innovation, Luis Perez-Breva. Fresh off the release of his incredible book Innovating – a Doer’s Manifesto, he dropped this golden nugget that brilliantly measures how innovative you are. In Luis’s book, he makes the case that the act of innovating starts off as a mere “hunch” – a gut feeling or a hypothesis. The person owning that hunch then goes on trying to solve the identified problem with the current parts (assets) and people available to him. The team advocates for resources as they make their problem tangible and take the problem through to scale.
This concept of innovating being nothing more than problem solving (at least as you start out) and breaking down the process into parts and people really stuck with me.
And I think you should take note too.
You see, today’s organizations are in a situation where they are fearful of this phenomena called “disruption.” And while it’s best that you avoid innovation’s pop culture and fancy jargon, the threat is real. You have probably already heard the stories several times already: How Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry. How Uber disrupted the taxi industry. So now your company is thinking: how do I know if my organization is innovative enough to weather the potential unicorns of Silicon Valley? How do I know whether I’m capable of engaging in this practice called innovating?
Simply put, you need to have a feel of how flexible your organization is. Its ability to solve different and new problems with its current people and by leveraging its own assets is a measure of how innovative it is. It’s a gut-check for you to know if you’re ready to weather disruption. Think of the typical examples you’ve already heard of before: Airbnb and Uber. Now think of the problem they are designed to solve: I need a place to stay when traveling, and I need a ride from point A to point B, respectively. Now think of the industries they’ve disrupted. Hotels are also designed to provide accommodation for travelers, and taxis help you get from point A to point B as well. The problems are the same, but the solutions are different.
Now you might be thinking, well, there is no justification for me to fire all my employees, sell all my assets and start solving problems differently. And you’re right, just like it makes no sense for a hotel chain to sell all of its properties. The perspective and approach is different when you’re the incumbent. You want to innovate from a point of power, not a point where you are at a disadvantage. That is why your goal as an established organization is to solve new and different problems with the same parts and people you have. You want to set out to disrupt the market, not disrupt yourself. Your ability to do that will give you an indication of how innovative you are.