According to Simon Sinek, here’s the equation for Innovation.
(lack of time) + (lack of resources) + (optimism) = Innovation
The book “A Beautiful Constraint” supports Simon Sinek’s perspective. The idea in the book is that Constraints (like time or resources) are critical to breaking the innovation barrier. The book leverages plenty of examples, but the one that sticks out is Richard Branson and his creation of Virgin Airlines. Before Virgin, the “Big Airlines” dominated the industry and dictated the costs and the customer experience – leaving humans (aka Customers) frustrated and annoyed. Branson saw that as the opportunity – flights could be fun, and the flying experience could be enjoyable – successfully innovating on the flying experience.
Note: As a human who has been delayed (or stranded) many times for many reasons (plane on fire, hit by birds, countless storms, and equipment failure…and always, always waiting for the paperwork) – I don’t have the highest expectations of airlines.
The Shadow Side of the Innovation Label
Companies are clearly striving for Innovations in a crowded marketplace. The next big thing. The next iPhone or Neflix, Uber for (pools, car rentals, sandwiches, whatever). But is there a discipline around which “innovation initiatives” to pursue?
The allure of the “Innovation” label also has a shadow side (and it’s clear that the equation changes with the proliferation of AI – to be discussed later). The upside of “Innovation” has become so tempting that many leaders bypass their employees (and their own, sometimes) operational rigor, logic, other priorities, or work-life balance to get their ideas shipped. From the workers’ (developers, consultants, marketers, designers, etc…) perspective, it’s hard to know whether the Organization fully supports the new Major Initiative. Is the Organization chasing an illogical, unthought-through, massive project conceived in one corner of the Organization, or is it something more aligned with the company goals? And will there be support for “What happens if we’re successful?” or, more importantly, “What happens if we fail?” Think of all the folks who hustled to get Microsoft’s Zune (the failed iPod killer) to market only to have it fail due to Marketing and Support issues. Think of the last Major Initiative you worked on that was shelved for the next Major Initiative. These failed and ill-conceived ideas are killing morale. It’s hard to continue to jump on Moonshot Initiatives that lack support.
What is Innovation?
When thinking about Innovation, you should always center your thinking around a breakthrough. It doesn’t have to be fully baked or perfect; Tesla is constantly getting software updates to improve its performance. But the massive breakthrough (one of them) for Tesla, at least, was the idea that a software update could improve a car. Not whether it was fully conceived with the introduction of the popular EV. And Tesla wasn’t even the first EV – perhaps the first EV that can make a normal person vomit in 0 to 6 seconds. But it wasn’t the first EV.
Note: A similar example can be made about the iPhone and its clear breakthrough in aligning with cell phone carriers to offset the cost of the all-in-one cell phone, which also consisted of many other breakthroughs.
How to Approach Innovation Efforts
The point here is not to stop or slow Innovation at all. Creativity and Innovation are what make our lives incredibly exciting to live. It makes today different from yesterday. Our point is that the label of “Innovation” should go through a vetting process to determine whether this one Innovation initiative is of greater priority than all of the other priority initiatives. Similarly, on an individual level – all ideas tagged as “Innovative” should be approached with some amount of skepticism and a healthy dose of curiosity. Business Leaders tend to push for “a bias towards action,” which is fine and ensures that good ideas don’t die in the ideation phase, but there should always be some level of skepticism before pivoting to the next Innovation. If you feel the idea is not aligned with the company’s values OR you see the idea listed in the Marketoonist’s “7 Deadly Sins of Innovation” above – perhaps this isn’t the one to skip your child’s soccer practice over. And perhaps your time can best be spent on your core job.
But, please, do not stop trying to Innovate. The world would be a less than thrilling place if we were still using Abacuses or Dictaphones and telling time by the sun. “Breakthroughs” in almost everything is done while plenty of folks stand by and say, “That’ll Never Work.”
The AI Lens
The equation laid out by Simon Sinek is problematic with AI as ubiquitous as it is. Time and Resources are not challenges or constraints a machine suffers from (unless we are discussing Marvin in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). These constraints are critical for innovation yet are not challenges in the world with AI. This does not mean that the equation isn’t accurate – it just means that the orders of magnitude within the equation have changed. And an additional variable to consider may be “time to market” – a key component of AI. The pace of the innovative delivery is now something to consider seriously. If operating with a blend of AI and Humans – how many initiatives/breakthroughs can you run simultaneously until you get diminishing returns?
References and Resources
(Innovation Equation) by Simon Sinek; Type: Video
A Beautiful Constraint by Adam Morgan, Mark Barden; Type: Book
The Rise and Fall of the Zune: A Tale of Poor Marketing, Developer Woes, and a Failed Attempt to Dethrone the iPod by Bradley Pallister/Innovation Insights; Type: Article
Global status report on road safety 2018 by World Heath Organization; Type Article
Note: An Additional shadow side of innovation to consider is its impact on society. Ask Oppenheimer how he felt about the Nuclear weapon, an innovation. We chose not to discuss this because it’s a seriously deep discussion. If you were sitting with Henry Ford while he was working on the Model T, would he have changed anything if he knew there would be 1.3 Million worldwide car-related deaths annually? I’m ignoring the multitudes of benefits, but it is an interesting mental and ethical exercise.
- According to Simon Sinek, innovation can be achieved through a combination of limited time, limited resources, and optimism.
- The book “A Beautiful Constraint” supports this perspective by showcasing examples such as Richard Branson’s creation of Virgin Airlines.
- However alluring, pursuing innovation initiatives can have negative consequences when leaders prioritize them over operational rigor, logic, and work-life balance while simultaneously ignoring whether the initiative is true innovation.
- Our “Bias toward Action” philosophy (aka Fail Fast) compounds the issue as speed often supersedes rationale.
- It is important to vet innovative ideas and consider their impact on the team before fully committing.
- However, Innovation should not be discouraged despite these challenges, as breakthroughs drive progress.
- With the rise of AI, the equation for innovation changes as machines no longer face constraints of time and resources.
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