Innovators need support to succeed and room to fail
We rely on innovators to make our lives better by developing the products of the future and creating businesses that will be part of future economies. Innovators are the bridges into the future so the better our innovators are, the bigger, smarter and brighter the future is.
If we want a better future we should recognise and support innovators. To do that we must first realise the cold, hard fact that most innovations fail. Innovators take the risks and suffer the consequences. But when they succeed the rest of us benefit. Supporting and respecting failure is required to keep innovation going.
But supporting a successful innovator means sharing in the risks and therein lies the dilemma; everyone wants the benefits but very few people want the risks. Think of the investors in innovation, obviously everyone wants to fund the next Google, but only if they know it will be successful.
To support innovation you need a basic understanding of what innovation is. In the broadest sense, it is the improvement of a knowledge base. Innovation takes what is known to be achievable and tries to attain a new outcome. In practical terms innovation includes:
- increasing the capabilities of existing technology
- overcoming technical problems
- applying a known technology in a different environment
- making something bigger, better, faster, smaller, cheaper, quicker or different to everyone else.
Technology development for the sake of technical advancement is not innovation. Innovation requires a commercial outcome. The support therefore must give innovators the knowledge, tools, resources and capabilities they need to commercially succeed.
Using this understanding of innovation moves away from the typical definition of innovators as ‘nutty inventors’ or people wearing lab coats. This broad, commercial definition recognises that innovation can be incremental, not just a radical “new product”.
To be successful innovation must overcome technical, financial and commercial risks and it should be obvious that the “more” radical an innovation is the more risks it involves. The success of innovation is a complex mix of factors ranging from strategy to sales. Each innovation requires a different blend of assistance and support and there is no quick, simple answer to push innovators from idea concept to commercial success.
Before we can get into all the success factors for innovation, my opinion on the two initial steps to increase innovation success in a business are to:
- understand the current status of innovation: the extent of innovation currently and historically undertaken
- determine what role innovation will play in the strategy for the business going forward: particularly to establish the objectives of innovation, resources available and how to manage it.