Innovation for Idiots

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On March 10, 2014

No doubt, you’ve seen those ubiquitous  “Dummies” books. The first title (DOS for Dummies) appeared in 1991, and has been followed by a plethora of publications over the years. Simplifying complex concepts for people was obviously a pretty innovative idea that had “legs,” since—as of March 2013—there are now more than 1,800 titles in the series. And, by the way, one of those titles is Business Innovation for Dummies!

Innovation is such a critical component for business success these days. “Me, too” businesses simply don’t survive in a world that is constantly changing. It reminds me of an old Doonesbury cartoon in which one CEO asks another how he managed to lose his business. “I went out to lunch!” was his reply. It was a comment on the rapid pace of change in the marketplace.

Innovation, however, is about a lot more than adapting to change. In fact, it’s really about being an agent of change—about thinking differently about how things are done.

But being innovative doesn’t just happen. It requires overcoming some inertia. And that means if we want to think—and act—differently it’s going to take some effort and activity on our part.

How do you develop an innovative mindset? Well, since the Business Innovation for Dummies title is already taken, let me suggest just a couple of “innovation for idiots” ideas that can get you started in the right direction.

1. Make a commitment. Set aside a certain amount of time each week to explore what creative, innovative people are thinking and talking about. There are great online resources (such as TechCrunch or TED talks) that are dedicated to innovative approaches and new ideas. You don’t have to read every article or watch every video, but get in the habit of perusing these sites and then pick one or two each week to review in more detail. Treat your “innovation time” like you would any other business meeting or commitment. Put it on your calendar and honor the commitment.

2. Break down the box. People are always telling us to “think outside the box,” but we often don’t do it. We want to be experts in our chosen fields—and that’s a good thing—but innovation often comes from looking at what someone outside of our area of expertise (our “box”) is doing. Then we can ask how we might take their innovative approach and apply it to our business.

We tend to look up to innovative businesspeople as super-smart individuals. And most of them are pretty intelligent folks. But it doesn’t necessarily require a genius IQ to be innovative. You just have to learn to think differently (my apologies to Apple for piggy-backing on their slogan). Start with those two simple steps: Make a concerted commitment to learning about innovation, and don’t lock yourself in to your particular area of expertise.

Innovation isn’t always easy, but you don’t have to be a genius to pursue it!