Innovation Is Hard — Here’s How to Stop Brainstorming and Make Something Real
July 10th | 2018

There’s no shortage of talk about how to be innovative.

We read about it all the time in Fast Company, the Harvard Business Review, and Medium, and there are plenty of startups, incubators, and CEOs happy to share their success stories. In all that conversation, you can find as many principles, best practices, methods, and most of all, acronyms, as you could possibly want. (Also, plenty of stock photos of people in suits putting sticky notes on whiteboards and looking inspired. Lovely.)

But no one’s talking about the big and small failures that happen along the way. No one’s talking about why their process isn’t always right for every business. And no one’s talking about what happens when you’re done reading all that inspirational stuff and you actually have to take the next step.

So let’s get real.

The bottom line is this:

Every great business or brand is built by people, not processes. And the same is true of innovation. That means you can’t just apply a single system of innovation to every business and expect it to work — you have to adapt innovation to your culture. You have to find the way forward that works for the people who work with you.

It’s easy to get paralyzed into ignoring new ideas or innovating in ways that only scratch the surface of bigger opportunities.

We’ve got a lot to say about it, but let’s just start with a few key truths about innovation:

Innovation doesn’t have to come from the top.

It doesn’t have to be about getting leadership buy-in. Cultural change is what leads companies into the future, and it’s just as likely to come from small groups of big thinkers as it is from higher-ups with company-wide plans.

Innovation will die if it’s relegated to a single department.

Innovation teams” might seem like a good idea, but they tend to get stuck in the corner of the basement, churning out ideas that never come to life. Innovation shouldn’t have specific teams — it should be part of the way everyone thinks.

Innovation isn’t the inevitable product of innovative thinking.

Innovation without action is just dream journaling. It’s writing email drafts in MS Word. Getting to innovative output is as much about operations and culture as it is about ideas. The ideas themselves aren’t worth much — execution is what counts.

So what’s stopping people from making innovation real?

We promoted a survey on LinkedIn, targeted to a dozen industries across roles such as marketing, engineering, innovation, and user experience, asking what’s stopping them from being innovative. And, because we wanted to give people concrete steps to take in order to change their culture from the inside, we used that feedback to develop straightforward and honest tips to encourage progress — no matter what culture you’re working within.

So, here are our ideas for how you can move forward. Not next year. Not next quarter. Not tomorrow. Right now.

What's Stopping You?

There’s no one problem that stands in the way of innovation. And there’s no one solution to making it happen. But there are lots of ways to start.

These small steps could be used by the CEO, but they’re intended for you — the people who keep trying to stay at the forefront of business and keep bringing new thinking and ways of working into your projects, no matter the odds.

We never stop facing down barriers, and it’s easy to get paralyzed into ignoring new ideas or innovating in ways that only scratch the surface of bigger opportunities. But real innovation isn’t just one direction we can choose to pursue — it’s the only way to survive.

Got feedback? Things we missed? Tell us about it! Because examining our failures and successes is the only way we can move forward.