The Problem with the Quick Fix
Here’s a question that I get too often: How can you build an innovation capability really fast?
I’ve told the story before of one typical example:
I had lunch a while back with two executives from an organisation that the Business School does a fair bit work with. They wanted to improve innovation and that’s what triggered our meeting.
We talked for a couple of hours about what was happening in their organisation. We talked about innovation as a process, the different forms of innovation, incremental versus radical – all the big topics. It seemed like we were making some progress towards figuring out how we might be able to work together.
Then at the very end of the lunch, the one that’s actually in charge of innovation there leaned over and said“Look, just tell me what piece of software to get and I’ll get it.”
The problem with questions like this is that they demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of how organisations work. People want quick fixes – the problem with the quick fix is that it doesn’t exist.
You Have to do the Work
Two posts this week make the same point in very different ways. First, James Altucher takes on the idea that getting rich playing poker is easy. The whole post is worth reading – Altucher recounts a conversation he has with a friend who wants to start earning money playing poker. Altucher tells him that he has to learn scrabble first:
Me: It takes 1000s of hours to learn Scrabble. Every great poker player I know is a stone-cold killer. You have to kill or be killed. Most great poker players I know are great at all other games and have been since they were kids. A friend of mine spent 20 years becoming a chess master, another 5 becoming a great backgammon player, and it took him 10 years before he made a dime from poker. Now he’s made about $5 million from poker.
10 years, and thousands of hours. To win at poker, you have to do the work.
Seth Godin comes at it from a different angle though. He says that you can’t just have the good parts of a job – you have to welcome the tough parts, because they’re what show that you’re doing something worthwhile. This is his conclusion:
You don’t get to just do the good parts. Of course. In fact, you probably wouldn’t have chosen this path if it was guaranteed to work every time.
The implication of this might surprise you, though: when the tough parts come along, the rejection and the slog and the unfair bad breaks, it makes sense to welcome them. Instead of cursing or fearing the down moments, understand that they mean you’ve chosen reality, not some unsustainable fantasy. It means that you’re doing worthwhile, difficult work, not merely amusing yourself.
The very thing you’re seeking only exists because of the whole. We can’t deny the difficult parts, we have no choice but to embrace them.
The Difficult Parts of Innovation
If you want to innovate more, you do have to put in the work. There is no quick fix. Here are some of the difficult parts that you have to contend with:
- Every new idea doesn’t succeed. You’ll have to live with some failures.
- You don’t get everything right the first time. You have to experiment with your business model to figure out what works best.
- New ideas spread slowly. Once you figure out how to solve a particular problem, it takes at least the same amount of time to get people to adopt your solution.
- You have to build the innovation skills over time. You need to give the people in your organisation the tools they need to innovate, the time to use them, and the opportunity. Again, this doesn’t happen overnight.
These are all things that slow you down when you’re trying to innovate. It’s part of what makes it hard to be more innovative.
The good news is that when you run into these obstacles, it means that you’re already ahead of everyone else that isn’t even trying. Imagine how far ahead you’ll be once you get over them.