Facts and myths about innovation
The origins of many successful organisations that exist today can be traced back to the nineteenth century or even earlier. The business interests of such organisations typically span a wide range of sectors and industries, and all of them have been able to continue operations sustainably and successfully. They are standing tall today not because their century-old business models were robust, but because they have been continuously innovating and remodelling their businesses to stay relevant over time. That's why innovation is necessary not only for superior growth, but also to sustain the journey over a long duration.
At the same time, innovation has become a buzzword today. However, despite its popularity, the term isn't fully understood. This article tries to discuss a few facts and clear up some myths around innovation.
Innovation must fuel creative destruction, inside and outside. Successful organisations always go through such a cycle of internal creative destruction which helps them stay relevant over time
Innovation is not invention: Quite often, we see people using these two words interchangeably and, more surprisingly, synonymously. Invention is about creating something that was either not available or believed to be impossible.
Innovation, on the other hand, is implementing a new idea by mobilising the required resources and things that are already invented or available.
For example, creating a photographic camera was a path-breaking invention that opened up a completely new world of scientific and business activities. But inserting a miniature version of such a camera inside a mobile phone is not an invention, but an innovation. This was an innovative idea that helped in mobilising multiple working elements, including a camera and a mobile phone, to create an unprecedented experience for users of mobile phones and cameras.
Innovation is not copying another innovation: This is another misconception among entrepreneurs and other stakeholders. Innovation does not mean borrowing an innovation from another part of the world. On the other hand, if an innovator adapts an innovation from somewhere else to solve a local problem, then this may qualify as innovation.
For example, ride-sharing apps had become popular in the USA's Silicon Valley more than a decade ago. The business model was relatively simple: to provide a better experience to riders and drivers alike in comparison to prevailing cab services.
Copying that business model and developing a new app would not qualify as another innovation. But when the innovators of emerging countries implemented a new idea of ride sharing involving two-wheelers, the business model was altered through an innovation.
Innovation is not only for start-ups: It's true that one of the most important criteria for distinguishing a start-up from a small business is its innovative capabilities. But innovation is not only for start-ups. In fact, large companies need to innovate more to remain relevant in this fast-changing world.
As discussed above, large companies have been able to maintain their position as industry leaders over centuries due to their ability to sustain innovation-driven business remodelling.
Similarly, there are ample examples of large companies that have failed due to their inability to innovate. For example, the innovative idea of inserting miniature but powerful cameras inside mobile phones disrupted the traditional business of photography.
Innovation is not training: Many stakeholders believe that we can make the younger generation innovative by training them with modern skills. It's true that upskilling is an important element to improve workforce productivity and employability. However, skills building is not the only activity that can foster innovation. A proper education system is also essential to create innovative minds. Education, particularly one centred around science, technology, engineering and mathematics, plays a pivotal role in fostering creativity and problem-solving skills.
Additionally, innovation hubs should be working to catalyse the formation of communities of problem solvers who can collaborate across domains and co-create innovative solutions. Just focusing on training is unlikely to yield the desired outcome of innovation.
There is no silver bullet: There is no magical formula for innovation. That's why taking a centralised approach towards innovation is unlikely to work. Innovation can happen anywhere and everywhere; it can originate from any rank of an organisation. A focus on collecting, collating and incubating innovative ideas in an inclusive manner can result in several innovative outcomes. Innovation can be encouraged through an openness to all ideas rather than a set of cumbersome processes.
Finally, innovation must fuel creative destruction, inside and outside. Successful organisations always go through such a cycle of internal creative destruction which helps them stay relevant over time. At the same time, their innovations drive creative destruction in the external world, leading to progress in society.
The writer is a partner with PwC. The views expressed here are personal.