If you want to get better at innovation, you have start innovating more.
That probably sounds obvious, but in practice, not all that many people do it.
I was reminded of this by an interesting post by John Gruber discussing Apple’s transition to cloud computing. It includes this section:
Jason Fried had a good cover story for Inc. magazine last month, on how to get good at making money. His advice in a nutshell: you get good at making money by actually making money:
“I can’t say enough about bootstrapping. Whether you’re starting your first business or your next one, my advice is to bootstrap it. Bootstrapping forces you to think about making money on Day One. …”
Eye-rollingly obvious, perhaps, but so is much of the best but most-ignored advice in life. Almost nothing worthwhile is easy, and it’s hard to just jump in and be good at something difficult right off the bat. Think, say, of Twitter, whose business plan, such that it is, has always been something along the lines of “Get big and popular, then just flip the switch and start making money when we feel like it”. There is no switch.
The only reliable way to succeed at anything is to actually do it, repeatedly, with concentrated effort. True for individuals, and true for organizations. Athletes, artists, businesses.
This is just as true of innovation as it is of anything else. We always want to be instantly good at new things (well, maybe you don’t, but I sure do, and so do a lot of people that I run across). You have to go through the experience of getting to the point where you’re skilled.
In innovation terms, that means that you get better at it when you start executing the innovation process: you generate ideas, you select the ones on which to concentrate, you figure out how to make these ideas work, and you get the ideas to spread.
There’s no way to simply jump to the point where you’re great at all of these steps. That’s part of my point with the innovation matrix – it’s the act of executing ideas that moves you up the Innovation Competence axis. Too often I’ve seen firms hope that getting the right tools is all they have to do to become more innovative.
The problem with that approach is that tools don’t make you execute ideas. They can help, but you have to execute ideas consistently, over an extended period of time to build innovation skills.
Because you can only get better at what you do, the way to get better at innovating is to start innovating.