Innovation that sticks is purposed-driven - led by someone on a mission to do good for others. It doesn't matter if the innovation succeeds on its own or leads to another innovation by someone else that does succeed. What matters is that the innovator is committed to a cause and is compelled to innovate to overcome a barrier keeping people from realizing their purpose.
Innovations come from everywhere. As Bobbi Brown told me at C2MTL, they are often born of necessity in solving problems. As Peter Skarzynski explains, "Valuable innovation is born of new, frame-breaking insights." Innovation happens when people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives come together at things like C2MTL or HATCH, the CEO Connection Mid-Market Convention or the lobbies and gathering spaces of Apple, Facebook, Google and the like.
The world needs three types of leadership and innovation: artistic, scientific and interpersonal.
Consider artistic innovations like Paul D. Miller aka "DJ Spooky" on a stage at HATCH "spinning" his iPad to play the music he created by digitizing ice bergs with world-class cellist Philip Sheppard improvising on his cello to that ice music. (Not something you see every day.)
This, like most artistic innovations is all about breaking down barriers of perception.
Intel's Rich Hannah and Mary Smiley took us through their Pocket Avatars app at HATCH. Their group has created avatars that use smart-phone cameras to capture and transmit a whole different level of communication on things like Snap Chat and What's App. The technical barriers were only part of the story, Rich and Mary have protected and grown a group within Intel with a mission, credo and business model different from the mother ship's.
At the most recent CEO Connection mid market convention, MasterCard Labs' John Sheldon took us through the company's innovation track record. So far, they've tested 400 ideas and feel fine that only four have reached the highest levels in their commercialization process (several are being developed in their pipeline). As he explained, their Qkr platform is one of them - because, among many potential uses, it enables school children to pay for school lunches without cash. Keeps them from losing that cash and prompts conversations between parents and kids about planning their week's lunches.
Wharton's Mauro Guillen redefined emerging markets at the mid market convention. While most think of them in terms of geography, Guillen went further. He pushed us to consider cities as an emerging market. He pushed us to consider the aging population. We'll soon have more grandparents than grandchildren. Frame-breakers like these prompt interpersonal innovations for those whose purpose is to meet emerging needs.
Implications for you
Sheldon closed his presentation with some prescriptions for what you can do:
Own and rigorously defend your innovation agenda.
Like what's happening at MasterCard, Intel and others, if senior leadership isn't championing innovation and letting people fail hundreds of times (while learning from it)or encourage teams to consider and build business models that don't fit the mother ship's current models, innovation will wither and die.
Build innovation muscle through repetition
As Aristotle said "excellence is a habit". So is innovation. Your organization must get in the habit of innovating.
Make space - isolate and focus
It's not enough to defend the innovation agenda. You must give innovators a safe, secure space - physically and emotionally - in which they can play.
Trust your employees - they will surprise you
If you already knew the answer, you wouldn't need to innovate. Let them play. Let them digitize ice. Let them redefine what emerging markets are. Let them wow you. And appreciate and reward the wow.
Try a lot of things, but fail smart
The Gore Company used to tell people that it was okay to experiment with things that could put holes in the boat above the water line, but not below the water line. That's failing smart - faster, cheaper and maximizing learning.
Do well by doing good
And we're back to purpose. Start and end with a focus on doing good for others. It's enlightened self-interest. The good will come back to you and yours. Random innovations die. Those who are committed to the cause will not let purpose-drive innovations fail in the end.