Once upon a time innovation used to be the most exciting word used in business; it is now one of the most boring.
Innovation is dead and we killed it.
Innovation used to happen by accident and what a very happy accident it was. Somebody from R and D would go home with a pet theory, tinker with it at home over the weekend and sometimes just get plain lucky. The company would then herald it as the next big thing and the money would start to roll in again.
The problem is that those happy, chance outcomes are hard to manage, hard to measure and almost impossible to replicate, and so we tried to make a science out of innovation, and quite frankly we failed.
There are plenty of things that we can do to make innovation happen that might, at first, seem smart.
There are things that will keep us busy and, importantly, keep our bosses and shareholders happy.
For example, we can invent an innovation process that helps everybody in the organization tap into their deepest cleverness, or we can produce funding to help grow baby ideas that come from anywhere in the business. Perhaps we can have idea competitions and use technical platforms to help us manage the influx of genius, or even employ a chief innovation officer whose job it is to be the shining light within the business and make sure that his very special innovation team deliver our future.
We can also experiment with different models of innovation. We can go open source; we can form incubators and specialist SWOT teams of facilitators; we can reward people with huge payouts when they deliver the big idea; we can measure our new products to market profit ratio versus old and established, or we can get everyone collecting insights until we can hardly move in our buildings for pieces of brightly colored paper and post-it notes on all the windows.
Alternatively we could buy bean bags and sit in them as we dissect our brand's essence. Ultimately, we can keep ever so busy doing so many smart things and yet they still won't guarantee innovation as a result.
I do believe that innovation is a worthy goal. However trying to turn it into a science is fundamentally flawed and I'll explain why.
Innovation comes from people.
If your people are confident, flexible and energised in delivering new and different ideas then innovation is inevitable. Equally, if your leaders model the right behaviors to encourage risk-taking, experimentation and 'learning by doing,' then innovation will naturally become a part of your culture.
In order to be successful, innovation needs to be fun and human, as opposed to being a weighty intellectual science with a language that only a few understand. To put it another way, innovation creates an energy in your people and a buzz of possibility. It's important to teach them how to have ideas that simply solve the problems and opportunities that they see every day.
When people believe that they can behave in an innovative way, when they believe that the organization wants it and when they know what it looks like, they will become creative leaders and innovation will happen.
Most organizations that I come across struggle to run a meeting well. If you can't get the basic foundational skills working in a business, trying to innovate is like trying to put a man on the moon. If you get your people skills cooking, then you will release the genius of everyone in your organization.
So don't spend all your time talking about innovation but do bring humanity to your company and those random pieces of creativity will then bubble to the surface when you least expect them to.
And that can create a very exciting place to be.