Five biggest misconceptions about innovation

Organizations that do not innovate risk becoming obsolete in a rapidly changing and competitive landscape. Innovation is essential for staying relevant, fostering growth, and ensuring long-term success. To effectively spearhead change, one must truly understand its essential drivers. But a lot of advice is predicated on false premises. Here are the five biggest misconceptions about innovation.

Misconception #1: Innovation starts with a great idea

People who work in innovation are obsessed with coming up with the best idea since sliced bread. However, most breakthroughs begin with an insight gleaned from observation rather than an idea.  

In the 1960s, toothbrushes for children were like mini versions of adult toothbrushes. The handles were just as thin, yet shorter. Kids would often drop these tiny toothbrushes while brushing their teeth. Oral-B discovered that children do not have the same dexterity and grip as adults and introduced a kid-specific toothbrush with a thicker handle.

Often, we are so used to doing things a certain way that we no longer perceive them as inconvenient or annoying. That is a real sweet spot for innovation. The secret to magic is to become an expert observer and notice details others miss.

Misconception #2: Insights come with a stroke of genius

While many perceive innovation as an epiphany or a flash of genius, creativity actually comes in four stages:

  • Preparation. Feed the brain. Learn many new things and broadly sense what is out there.
  • Incubation. Stop thinking consciously about the problem. Let it go and let the mind wander.
  • Illumination. Insights automatically and subconsciously collide and then reach the threshold of consciousness: the a-ha moment.
  • Verification. For creativity to reach others and accomplish anything, think about the audience and craft the message or idea.

Many examples that show creativity doesn’t come easy. For instance, Freddy Mercury took seven years to complete Bohemian Rhapsody, a rebellious song unlike anything else.

Misconception #3: You have to have a big idea

When we search for the next groundbreaking, revolutionary idea, we often overlook opportunities right in front of us. Most innovations originate from small actions or initiatives rather than big ideas.

One of the biggest annoyances for visitors of the amusement park LEGOLAND was the long wait for attractions. Children would become so bored that they would occasionally have severe temper tantrums. A frontline park employee who witnessed this daily felt sorry for these kids and their parents and decided to take action. He placed tables with Lego pieces in the middle of the waiting area so the kids could play and have fun as the parents waited in the queue. That greatly simplified life for the kids, the parents, and the LEGOLAND staff. The concept proved so successful that it fundamentally improved the LEGOLAND customer experience.

Misconception #4: It's all about technology

Innovation is often associated with technology. People desperately try to find applications for a new technology, overstepping the absurdness of the product or service they are launching. Products like Google Glass and the Segway were launched with great fanfare, but both innovations fell short of expectations and failed.

While it is true that technology spurs innovation, it’s not a prerequisite. In our daily lives, many innovations do not rely on technology. Think of the HEINZ ketchup bottle that was turned upside down, or the IKEA concept to assemble furniture at home.

Misconception #5: Innovation and sustainability are two different disciplines

These days, most organizations prioritise innovation and sustainability and structure themselves accordingly. That is, they have teams dedicated to innovation and sustainability that, more often than not, compete against each other for resources and managerial attention.

However, innovation and sustainability are deeply intertwined concepts that complement and reinforce each other. They are closely linked in a symbiotic relationship, where innovation drives sustainability by providing the means to address environmental and social challenges while sustainability gives the context and motivation for innovation (and the entire organization) to thrive.

Learn to rethink

Innovation can take many forms, ranging from incremental improvements to disruptive breakthroughs. It involves observation, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and a willingness to follow a different path.

If you want to be a successful innovator, having an open mind is essential. Learn to observe and rethink, and you will be halfway there. Like Isaac Asimov once said: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

This article was originally published on the platform of THNK, School for Creative Leadership.

don’t miss out!

subscribe and get my columns straight into your mailbox

Scroll to Top