WHAT are the three unbelievable sentences in the English language? One, “The check is in the mail.” Two, “I will give you a call tomorrow.” And three, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”
Of course, those are trite statements from a few decades back that now only bring smiles to people who still remember them. But now, the three least trusted statements (not necessarily in this order) are: One, “You won P100,000 in a raffle but remit to us P300 to claim your prize.” Two, “This is the best price that I can give you.” And three: “We are an innovative company.”
Taking it from the last statement, how do you become an innovative person or organization? Let’s take it to another level—what is pushing Google to create self-driving cars that puts to shame the best possible ideas of Toyota, GM, and Ford? Let’s put it in a different perspective—how about if Apple, foreseeing the extinction of smartphones, decides to invest in flying motorcycles? Or what would happen if Samsung suddenly moves into pharmaceuticals to invent anti-cancer drugs with malunggay (moringa oleifera) as the basic formula?
Is it too far-fetched or impossible to do? Many people and organizations talk about “innovation” and come up with motherhood paragraphs in their mission statements but are at a loss on how to make it happen unlike Google, Apple, and Samsung. OK, fine. Maybe Samsung is not a real innovator, but a copycat as alleged by Apple. But the question remains the same—what’s the problem with innovation?
The answer is as clear as the fact that since profitable companies see themselves as successful, they tend to float away with their millions and literally paint themselves into a corner they call “core competence.”
At times it seems that innovation and competence are two opposite worlds. This is partly correct. The more you master a product or service, the more competent you become while unmindful of other opportunities in the horizon. I mean, there’s only one way to predict the future. And it’s by way of creating it the way you like it even if it is outside of the box.
Innovation and competence are two different things. It’s like one big difference between outlaws and in-laws. You know what I mean—outlaws are more sincere in the sense that they don’t promise to pay it back.
But exactly how would you define “innovation?” The best, clear-cut, revealing, and easy-to-understand definition comes from Vijay Vaitheeswaran, China business and finance editor of The Economist. He says: “Innovation is fresh thinking that creates value for the customers and the society at large. Without value creation, there is no innovation.”
Vaitheesswaran thinks innovation is not about technology, patents, or even doctorate degrees. They are inputs into a process. What is important is the output. No matter what you do, if the results are not fresh and valuable, then there’s no innovation.
Let me tell you this story about a woman named Lucy: She worked for a veterinarian and due to a car accident, she was forced to undergo a knee surgery. She was nervous about the surgery and decided to ask her veterinarian boss if he had any advice for her. Without much thought, he advised her: “Just turn your worries into prayers, get plenty of rest, and don’t lick your wound.”
This is what could possibly happen if people ignore what they know about their core competence. Some people seem to be programmed to apply only the things that they know to a certain problem without checking out other ideas. They are the so-called guardians of the status quo. There is nothing wrong with this, but if they are too hard-headed and they’re too many to deal with, so progress comes to full a stop.
Try it. Propose a new idea (a project, system, or procedure) to any person or group of persons. However admirable or common-sense it appears to be, you will expect that everyone’s mind is directed to find an issue, a defect, or an impossibility in making it happen. You can expect hundreds of killer phrases that are thrown your way if they decide that the sound of silence may not be enough to kill your ideas.
If you talk to them about a new system that could save the organization hundreds of thousands of pesos, they will declare the savings as minimal as they only accept ideas that promise millions of pesos. If you offer to them a project that is totally risk-free, they will pronounce it as “too good to be true” even if you present a notarized money-back proposal.
The examples are endless. And that’s part of the challenge of an incorruptible innovator. Expect the worst, but do whatever you can to make it happen by making the opposition irrelevant.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to email@example.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.