There’s 3 keys to a successful innovation: work, strengths, and impact. Innovation is work. It’s sustained effort in a focused area. Even if you’re a dream machine and think up a bunch of ideas on a regular basis, you need to test those ideas against reality. Your ideas need to change the game. Part of what makes it possible to think of game changers is playing to your strengths and testing your ideas.
In The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management (Collins Business Essentials) , Peter Drucker writes about 3 keys for a successful innovation.
Key Take Aways
Here’s my key take aways:
- Innovation is work. You’re more likely to innovate through focus, specialization, and continuous effort. It’s not a random game of luck. Innovation is the by product of sustained effort. Having a good idea isn’t good enough. You have to turn the idea into results and you have to test your ideas against the real world.
- Successful innovators play to their strengths. You’re more likely to innovate in an area where you know what you’re doing. It’s a game of moving up the stack and taking things to the next level or to entirely new approaches. Successful innovations often simplify something that’s complex. if you don’t understand it, you’re unlikely to simplify it. While you do need to play to your strengths, you also need to beware of the curse of knowledge.
- Successful innovations have an impact. They change the way we do things or they change the way we think. They impact society and they impact the economy.
I agree that innovation is work. While a lot of innovation might appear as luck, most of the successful innovators actually have a lot rigor. I think it’s easy to just think that some people are naturally smart or talented and not realize what happens behind the scenes. For example, Thomas Edison actually had a personal invention quota. He worked intensely at his success.
3 Conditions for a Successful Innovation
Drucker says the following 3 conditions are key to successful innovation:
- Condition 1. Innovation is work.
- Condition 2. Innovators must build on their strengths.
- Condition 3. Innovation is an effect in economy and society
Condition 1. Innovation is Work
Innovation is the result of purposeful work. Drucker writes:
Innovation is work. It requires knowledge. It often requires great ingenuity. There are clearly people who are more talented innovators than the rest of us. Also, innovators rarely work in more than one area. For all his tremendous innovative capacity, Edison worked only in the electrical field. And an innovator in financial areas, Citibank in New York, for instance, is unlikely to embark on innovations in retailing or health care. In innovation as in any other work there is talent, there is ingenuity, and there is predisposition. But when all is said and done, innovation becomes hard, focused, purposeful work making very great demands on diligence, on persistence, and on commitment. If these are lacking, no amount of talent, ingenuity, or knowledge will avail.
Condition 2. Innovators Must Build on Their Strengths
Innovators need to be in touch with the potential opportunities. They need to know their stuff. Drucker writes:
To succeed, innovators must build on their strengths. Successful innovators look at opportunities over a wide range. But then they ask, Which of these opportunities fits me, fits this company, puts to work what we (or I) are good at and have shown capacity for in performance? In this respect, of course, innovation is no different from other work. But it may be more important in innovation to build on one’s strengths because of the risks of innovation and the resulting premium on knowledge and performance capacity. And in innovation, as in any other venture, there must also be a temperamental “fit.” Businesses do not do well in something they do not really respect. No pharmaceutical company – run as it has to be by scientifically minded people who see themselves as “serious” – has done well in anything so “frivolous” as “lipsticks or perfumes. Innovators similarly need to be temperamentally attuned to the innovative opportunity. It must be important to them and make sense to them. Otherwise they will not be willing to put in the persistent, hard, frustrating work that successful innovation always requires.
Condition 3. Innovation is an Effect in Economy and Society
Successful innovations either meet the market demands or change the market demands. Drucker writes:
And finally, innovation is an effect in economy and society, a change in the behavior of customers, of teachers, or farmers, of eye surgeons – of people in general. Or it is a change in a process – that is, in how people work and produce something. Innovation therefore always has to be close to the market, focused on the market, indeed market-driven.
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