3 Keys for a Successful Innovation



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 are 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:

  1. Condition 1. Innovation is work.
  2. Condition 2. Innovators must build on their strengths.
  3. 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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  1. Hi J.D.

    It is amazing to me that you keep putting out great information day after day. Great Job, keep it up. My favorite today is: “Innovate through focus, specialization, and continuous effort. It’s not a random game of luck – Innovation is work.”
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  2. @ Giovanna

    Thank you. I’m still trying to find my flow, but I think the daily practice helps.

    I have a soft spot for innovation because I think it’s where creativity meets the real world. Improving innovation is a way to help more people turn their ideas into results.

  3. Good munchies in this post, to go with my coffee.

    My takeaways as an individual artist and writer:

    Create is an action verb.(Work)

    Know what I’m good at, what I consider important enough to do, and be open to possibilities (and opportunities) in those areas. (Strengths)

    You write that unless I understand something, I won’t be able to reduce it to simpler terms. That point sticks. I like that. In order to understand something I have to reduce it. I have to build up from the bottom; you break it down from the top. (Think there’s a post in that combination? Inductive versus deductive thinking, creating?) 🙂

    Change in process affects behaviors and attitudes. (Global effects)

    I just realized how I took your global idea and reduced it to me. That sounds very self-serving, doesn’t it? But it’s where I can start… Thank you!


  4. @ Barb

    Thank you.

    You got it. When somebody master something, they know all the things that don’t work. They also know what’s noise versus what’s value. They can take fast paths through complex things. The true masters can make a simpler path for others. I see this time and again.

    I think there is a potential post there. I’m a fan of inductive thinking.

  5. It’s interesting that the preception is often that innovators develop simply from a lucky idea. In fact, most worked very hard to develop something that’s new and works. Edison is a grat example. In technology, lots of developments came after failures. Steve Jobs was basically fired from Apple before building its current success with innovation.

  6. @ Gennaro

    I agree. I’m not even sure where I originally got the idea that innovation was easy. Maybe it was examples like the Pet Rock. When I started to work on my own innovation projects, I started to realize just how much work it is. As I heard stories about Edison and others, it was comforting to know that innovation really is less about dumb luck and more about applied focus.

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