Typewriter with the word innovation.

…you probably think that this innovation post is about you.


It might be, if you can answer this question:

Do you have a creative, executable idea about how to solve a real challenge, in a way that provides value and tangible benefits for your business and clients?

Yes? Here’s the thing: you don’t get to decide. 

Innovation is not a word you use to describe yourself. It’s a word other people use to describe you. And it’s probably the most abused word in the English language; bandied about so much that it’s lost all meaning and intent. 

So, let’s go back to the basics, shall we?

Lipstick on a pig

While innovation is about change, it’s not about change for the sake of it. You can’t wave the innovation flag every time you do something differently in your organisation. 

Naartjie 2.0 is still, that's right, just a naartjie!

Innovation is also not necessarily about changing the world. That’s disruption (tho’ innovation can be a catalyst for disruption).

What’s innovation?

Innovation is something you enable, not something you aim for. It must serve a specific purpose and drive significant positive change. It should eliminate stress, smooth processes, reduce friction, and produce a result. 

Innovation is doing something that’s been done forever, but doing it faster, smarter, or cheaper. It’s frequently refining ancient ideas. It’s identifying what’s laborious, menial, and time-consuming, and finding ways to do that thing better.

What’s that you say? You’ve “been doing this forever”? Possibly, but could you be confusing innovation with efficiency? It’s only innovative if it’s adopted by other people. If someone slaps their forehead and says, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Ideas are not innovation

Most businesses believe that innovation is about coming up with ideas. But that’s why so many (ideas and the businesses) fail. So when you ask your team to “come up with ideas” without giving them parameters, you’re going to get a lot of shit ones.

Try this:

  • Focus your efforts. Find something that annoys you or your clients and fix it. Innovation is the product of necessity.
  • Don’t ask people for ideas. Share the problem and ask questions about how to solve it. Test ideas quickly, reward people for trying, and try again.
  • Be specific but keep it simple. You goal is not to “be innovative”. Your goal is to solve this challenge for these people.
  • Set the stage for success. To get from inspiration to results, you need: freedom, resources, diverse teams, support, and a challenge.
  • Kill your darlings. Don’t cling to a certain way of doing things, a particular process, or a specific product just because it’s “yours”. If someone else has a better approach, adopt it and spend your energy elsewhere.
  • Don’t be a schnorrah (a miser). If you believe you have a better approach to solving a specific challenge, share it with your clients. Be lekker.
  • Look higher. Expose yourself to the highest possible denominator of what life offers. Expose yourself to great design and exceptional architecture, climb mountains, admire art. [Start here >> What is art for, by Alain De Botton]
  • Get out of your own way. If you want to change or disrupt the status quo, you need to be prepared to take some creative risks.

Big final tip: Don’t use the term ‘innovation’ lightly if you want to be taken seriously.