By Martin Zwilling
Real innovation in the business world is still rare. As I’ve said before, everyone talks about innovation, but the majority of new business plans I see still reflect linear thinking – one more social network with more features, another smartphone app for marketing, or one more platform for faster e-commerce. Historic changes and great successes don’t come from linear thinking.
What does it take for more dynamic transformations? I like the recommendations in the classic book ‘Orbit Shifting Innovation’ by Rajiv Narang and Devika Devaiah. They summarize twenty years of breakthrough research initiatives and innovation strategy they have led with many of the most dynamic global organizations large and small, including Unilever, Walt Disney, and Intel.
They define ‘orbit-shifting’ innovation as something that happens when an area that is ripe for transformation meets an innovator with the will and the desire to create history, not follow it. The breakthrough innovation creates a new orbit. Beginning with the Macintosh, Apple succeeded in doing this time and time again, transforming the lives of millions, with Steve Jobs at the helm.
Every entrepreneur and every company I know has orbit-shifting intentions. But there is a big difference between orbit-shifting intentions and orbit shifting results. According to Narang and Devaiah, the people who accomplish real innovation results seem to exhibit a higher set of attitudes and motivation:
Personal growth relates to the size of the challenge, not the size of the kingdom. What motivates real innovators is the more exciting challenge, not the number of people reporting to them. The ‘size of the difference’ they will make is more inspiring than the ‘size of the business.’ They relish getting out of their comfort zone, and into the unknown.
The new direction is the challenge, not the destination. The challenge is the transformation vehicle for true innovators, and not a performance goal. They focus on legacy creation, not legacy protection. They ignore failures and are constantly looking at the progress made. They treat innovations reviews like performance reviews.
Be an attacker of forces holding people back, not a defender. Real innovators start by questioning the world order rather than conforming to it. They begin by confronting the forces holding everyone back, rather than living with it. The forces include mindset gravity, organization gravity, industry gravity, country gravity, and cultural gravity.
New insights come from a quest for questions, not a quest for answers. This discovery mindset searching for new questions drives real innovators away from more of the same. They fundamentally become value seekers; they look for value in every experience, in every conversation. They don’t seek prescriptions, they seek possibilities.
Stakeholders must be connected into the new reality, not convinced. True innovators tip stakeholders into adopting and even co-owning the orbit-shifting idea. They go about tipping the heart first, assuming the mind will follow. They seek smart people, who openly express their doubts, and then collaborate to overcome them.
Work from the challenge backward, rather than capability forward. Overcoming execution obstacles is combating dilution, not compromising, for these innovators. Their mindset is not ‘if-then’ but ‘how and how else?’ They convert problems to opportunities, and often the original idea grows far bigger than the starting promise.
Overall, what is different about these innovators is their mental model of romanticism in vision and realism in execution. They expect challenges, and when problems do arise, they are not surprised or let down or disappointed. They face them head on, handle them and move on. Most of the rest of us are the reverse; realistic about the vision and romantic about execution.
Entrepreneurs and startups are in the best position to find and run with orbit-shifting rather than linear innovations. They don’t have to start by overcoming the choking gravities of an existing organization and product set. That’s why most large business and government entities are resigned to buying innovation, rather than birthing it. Is your best startup idea and mindset really orbit-shifting, or just linear thinking that stakeholders won’t buy?