We can’t go more than two days without hearing someone talk about their need for “more innovation.”
We need more innovative marketing tactics… We need an innovative way to engage our staff… We need an innovative approach to [whatever]….
The truth is, you probably don’t need as much innovation as you think. What you probably need is a lot more execution.
That’s a hard sell to most people, including a lot of company leaders, because everyone likes to think that their big break is right around the corner. “We could blow our numbers out of the water if we just had a way to… We could win the president’s cup this year if we could think of an idea that… We could finally get the recognition we deserve if we could just find that one…
It’s the same thinking that drives people to buy lottery tickets, and probably a lot of the gym equipment, cosmetics, and even tools that are sold. We could do/get/be… if only we could come up with a…
The idea of innovation feeds our lust for excitement and glory, and the emphasis that companies place on innovation as they speak to and reward their employees adds far too much fuel to the idea that the solution to everything is just around the corner, if only it can be discovered. Frankly, most of that thinking, and most of the emphasis that companies and managers place on innovation, is misguided.
New ideas are great. But you know what’s even better than a new idea? Making sure that all the things that make up the old ideas – the things that have proven to get work done, and sell products, and put money in the bank – actually get done, reliably and consistently. And frankly, that should be the focus of most company leaders and managers. Because the hard truth is that it’s not usually innovation that drives a successful product launch, or a high performance sales team, or even a center of excellence that actually does end up delivering innovation to a company. It’s people doing all the mundane tasks involved in carrying out the plan to test the idea, plodding through them one by one, and checking off little boxes in the project plan as they go, to make sure things stay on track. That’s the way “innovation” really happens. It’s not the idea that makes a difference. It’s delivering on the idea, and carrying out all the rather boring things that – when done consistently, reliably, and often without fanfare – add up to make a difference. Having the idea takes seconds. Doing all the little things that make it a reality is the work. And that’s what matters.
Sadly, far too many companies and managers have this upside down. They talk about innovation like it’s the Holy Grail, and pressure their employees to come up with innovative ideas. They run little contests to see who can come up with the best “innovation” (whether it can actually be done is another matter, of course). It’s a lot of fun, and generates a lot of internal hype and pats on the back. But we often wonder what the ROI is for all that talk and hype, compared to the return that companies pocket when people just focus on delivering the work.