Innovation – The Hardest Part is Starting

by James on November 16, 2009

Innovation is about getting startedIn most organizations business innovation is seen as “risky” behavior. For example, I’m on the Advisory Board of MaxPoint Interactive, an online advertising start-up. They developed a geo targeting technology for banner ads that’s 2.5 times more granular than residential zip code. The results Early Adopters have seen are nothing short of spectacular. I’m using my network to open some doors for them. Talk about pushing Jello up a hill on a warm day. Innovation is hard.

You would think that advertisers and their agencies would be all over something, with proven results, that eliminates most of the wasted impressions currently accepted as a matter of course for online banner campaigns. Nope.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this phenomenon. In the late 90s I was involved with an internet enabled advertising channel that delivered ads and content to large plasma screens in high-end bars and night clubs. A great way to get a message to a very attractive target who are light media users. More Jello.

I did some consulting for a Silicon Valley start up that had a radical new way to get consumer research feedback. The academics loved it. Early adopter results were excellent. The marketing industry? Not so much.

I’m not bitter about this. I’ve been involved in innovation my whole career. That crossing the chasm is difficult is no surprise to me. So what can a company do? Well, I have observed something that business leaders should pay attention to:

“The hardest part is starting.”

The reason getting traction for a new idea, that crossing the chasm is so hard usually has little to do with the quality of the idea and everything to do with how “risk” is perceived within an organization. Introducing new ideas into organizations, where taking risks isn’t an accepted part of the culture, is very, very difficult. People’s and organizations’ resistance to change gets in the way. They’re afraid to start.

So, if you want more business innovation, start something new today.

Hip Shots

  • If business innovation is important to your competitive advantage, and it is, then start things. Have each member of the leadership team start something new every quarter. Make starting new ventures, processes and ideas a factor in performance reviews and bonuses.
  • Senior management should visibly sponsor new initiatives. When the rank and file employees see that the “boss” is willing to try new things, that the boss has a business innovation mind set and is willing to put their name and reputation on the effort, they are much more likely to bring forth ideas and try new things themselves.
  • Senior leadership should be equally public when new ideas don’t pan out. Great ideas don’t come from being safe. Stuff isn’t going to work. By being visible, by taking ownership of failures as well as successes, leadership is telling employees that taking reasonable risks is important to the company’s future success.
  • Harness the insights and intelligence of employees. They are in a unique position to find and foster innovation. They are close to the guts of your business. They are also close to your customers. Bring them into the discussion. Listen carefully to what they have to say. Give them permission to contribute, to be innovative.
  • Bring customers into the discussion as well. Engage with your best customers. Dig under the surface. Probe heavy category users. Find out what they need and want. Find out what they would like you to start doing or providing.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Malachy Walsh November 24, 2009 at 10:41 pm

“The hardest part is starting.”

Dave Trotter had a similar observation on his blog. He used a story about Winston Churchill to illustrate. Apparently after retiring Churchill set his heart on painting. He got all set up in the garden. Hours later his wife came out and noticed that he hadn’t painted a lick. She picked up a brush, dipped it in paint and made a line across the center of the blank canvas. He yelled at her that she was ruining it. She said I know, but now at least you can get started.

Maybe that’s what you need to get the jello up the hill – a good solid stroke that everyone can see needs fixing.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv Enabled