We at the Journal are always on the hunt for interesting content being produced around the ideas of intrapreneurship and innovation so we can make sure that we’re always keeping up with trends and new ideas. It’s for this reason that a recent article by Greg Satell titled “Innovation ‘Gurus’ Love To Talk About These 4 Myths — None Of Them Are True” caught our eye. We’ve spoken with many intrapreneurs since the inception of the Intrapreneur Alliance Journal whom we consider to be “gurus” in the space and wondered if this was going to falsify what we’ve heard from.
Not surprisingly, Satell’s article seemed to support what we have heard from the experts that we’ve spoken with. We’re not quite sure what “gurus” Satell is talking about, but the ones we’ve talked to who are actually working within companies to help them innovate, have been giving us advice based on what is actually working for them in terms of ideas and practice, and are not just perpetuating innovation myths.
Let’s take a look at these myths Satell says innovation gurus have been falsely perpetuating, and what some of the experts that we’ve interviewed have said in contrast to them.
1 – Disruptive Innovation Is Inherently Better
Disruptive innovation sounds really great, but rarely actually happens. Satell says “It may happen to your industry once in a decade and even then, it’s usually not nearly as disruptive as pundits say it’s going to be.” This is because true disruptive innovation completely upends the way an industry works and forces everyone in the industry to change or be left to fade away.
Satell continues to say that “What makes disruptive innovation so dangerous is not that they create technologies that are necessarily better, but that they initiate a shift in business models, which makes it hard for incumbents to compete without killing their cash cows. So we should view disruptive innovation as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.”
Instead, most companies could benefit from more incremental innovations. This means that they can benefit more in the short term from making changes to their current offerings that help their clients/users do things in a better or easier way. When we spoke to Andrew Wallace, now Director of Product Management at Chefs Plate, he told us that focusing on finding new ways to help current customers usually leads to the greatest successes. Wallace told us:
“It isn’t about the output. It isn’t about the technology that’s created. It’s not about having a beautiful new interface. It can be those things, but only if they help people solve a problem in new ways. Innovation doesn’t have to be about these giant projects. Focusing on the best way you can help your customers, no matter how small or incremental, is where innovation finds success.”
2 – Incremental Innovation Isn’t Really Innovation
Incremental innovation doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as disruptive innovation, but it is, in fact, the thing that keeps most companies going. Incremental innovation refers to making small but purposeful and powerful changes to things that already exist. These changes may seem small at the time, but they all eventually add up and continuously make products better and keep them relevant so that people continue to purchase and use them. Satell equates this to the game of baseball and says “Sure, everyone would rather hit home runs, but the game is more often won with singles and doubles.”
When we spoke to Karla Congson, Co-Founder and CEO of collectiveIQ, about intrapreneurship, we asked her what advice she would give to intrapreneurs. One thing that stood out in her response was when she said: “The mark of a really great intrapreneur is practical thinking – that is, ensuring you’re thinking continuously about how do you make your company run 10% better.” Karla understood that while it’s important to be thinking about big changes a company can take advantage of, it’s also important to remain focused on current business and keep asking how to make it better in order to keep moving forward and afford to also think about those more disruptive ideas.
3 – You Have To Be Agile To Innovate
Being agile is another term that we hear a lot when people talk about innovation. When it comes to innovation, agile usually refers to a style of development that allows teams to quickly and easily reassess their work, so they can change and adapt what they’re doing as new information or circumstances present themselves. People tend to believe that if innovative companies and teams can’t pivot quickly to markets, they tend to end up losing out to those that can and do. Satell believes “There is some truth to that, but great companies prepare more than they adapt.”
While being agile and able to adapt as outside forces change can be quite helpful, there can be more benefit from thinking about where the future is going and how your company or product can be a part of that. That way, you can work towards something very specific that can put you ahead soon, rather than only reacting to what is happening now.
When Ryan Spinner, Head of Innovation for Aviva Canada, spoke at one of our Intrapreneur Alliance Events he mentioned that Aviva looks to the future and thinks about how they can be a part of it much in advance so that they are leading the way instead of playing catch up. Spinner said:
“Aviva is a 320 year old company […] and what we’re really good at is actually pivoting our business at really critical times, and that’s really what innovation is all about. Six or seven years ago we realized that it’s time to start pivoting our business, it’s time to start thinking about what is our business going to look like in the next 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 years? Who do we want to be when we grow up?”
4 – Innovation Is About Ideas
This one doesn’t sound like a myth, because how can a company innovate if they don’t have an idea to work towards? It’s true that ideas need to be part of the innovation process, but ideas need to be well thought out – not just ones that pop into your head out of the blue. So what does it mean to have a well thought out idea? Here’s what Satell says:
“What I found in researching my book Mapping Innovation is that the truly innovative organizations — not just the one-hit wonders, but those who can reproduce success over many years — don’t look for ideas but for problems to solve. A good problem leads to a sense of purpose and that’s where good ideas really come from.”
His sentiment is echoed by many intrapreneurs that we’ve spoken to. Andrew Wallace said something similar above, and when Heidi Tsao, Director of Solutions Design at Morneau Shepell, wrote a piece for us last year about the do’s and don’ts of creating innovative start-up-like teams inside of established large companies, she told us “DON’T come to the project with an idea in mind of what you’re going to build.” Tsao continued that thought by writing:
“Or do. Having an idea in mind can be an excellent jumping off point for the experiments (aka tests) you’ll be running to try and disprove your idea. And you probably will disprove it because, in the absence of talking to customers first and empathizing with them to find out what problems they’re trying to solve (i.e. the old way of doing things), you’re just making assumptions. So go ahead and make assumptions, but know that a vital part of the project will be to try and break those assumptions.”