Innovation is one of the trendiest roles and topics today. In my first days as an innovator, I thought I would be ideating and implementing new ideas quickly and successfully – i.e., high impact opportunities that disrupt the market and transform the way we work today. After innovating in a few different industries, I’ve realized the outcome of an idea is as important as the ability to have a safe environment to experiment—and to find a way to create an impact over time, despite failure.
A few weeks into working on an innovation project for a large corporate client, I saw bureaucracy and the pressure of conforming to traditional processes seep in. Here’s an example: we met with the client for a project quite new and atypical for them. They were interested in building a support system for refugees—it was a fairly risky, social impact driven, low revenue opportunity. I was excited that such a client was interested in an opportunity of this kind. However, since the project was complex, time-consuming, requiring multiple approvals, and without a “conventional business case,” the client decided not to proceed further. They did not want to take a risk financially or damage their reputation.
We didn’t even get to explore what working with refugees could look like—it could have opened up a new market and revenue stream, helped the client make headway in the social impact space, and created learning grounds for similar opportunities in the future.
Innovation teams exist to inspire the best entrepreneurial and creative minds, help push archaic boundaries, inspire companies to take risks on new ideas, and rethink traditional patterns.
In going only as far as the first meeting, we were unable to execute what we had set out to do. When I saw that the aspiration to be innovative was limiting in and of itself, I decided to find a space where I could experiment and reinvent.
As a part of another innovation project for a small emerging client, I spent a few months developing a new distribution channel for corporate offices in the US. This project felt different—there were many shifting priorities, rethinking of processes, constantly adjusting use cases, and creating new pathways to make it all happen. We started with a blank canvas and did everything leading up to the launch of the product. Two weeks before the big day, the client decided they did not want to proceed just yet.
This time, the outcome of the project felt different. Maybe this project would never launch in the real world either, but because I got to actually explore innovating, I left the project with a positive outlook. I was given the space to innovate, weigh possibilities, and try again. Here’s how:
On the second project, the team was willing to dedicate time and resources to implement a new idea, and at the very least, explore possibilities despite pressures of traditional time frames and priorities. In an aggressive growth environment where smaller companies often operate on a tight budget, do not have financial stability and resources, and are focused on making a profit, there was still dedication to continue scoping the industry to get a feel for what the outcome of the project could be. In the process, we learned a huge amount—about technology set-up, optimal product mix, operations set-up, and the complexities of developing a new distribution channel for the US market. The output of the product was as important for the company as the ability to incubate and really experiment with the idea, whatever the outcome may be. As a plus, the learning we obtained through this journey can be used if the project is revived again in the future, or on a similar new venture.
Companies need to be willing to try new things even if something doesn’t look like it’s going to work at the outset.
Innovation is not about working on the perfect idea; it’s driven by creating a space where you can feel safe to try something new, fail, and try again. As agile, fast, and rapid innovation appears to be on the surface, it’s not just about one-off successes. Don’t be afraid to become a part of a larger experience where you can reuse past learning, learn from failed attempts, and create value in novel ways in the longer term. In my few years as an innovator, I have learned that innovation is at least as much about engaging in the process as it is about outcomes in the real world, if not more.