How to innovate? It’s what keeps any CEO or founder worth their stock options awake at night.
After all, innovation. It’s not a four-letter word.
Crap is a four-letter word.
So is mediocrity and the word average.
Case in point is Tesla and SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk who said, “I’m interested in things that change the world or that affect the future and wondrous, new technology where you see it and you’re like, ‘Wow, how did that even happen? How is that possible?’ ”
Notice that the many four-letter words are qualitative, not quantitative (that’s what allows me the above artistic freedom).
The fascination with how to innovate and innovation in fact has a remarkably simple meaning when you look at its origin:
ORIGIN mid 16th century: from Latin innovat- ‘renewed, altered,’ from the verb innovare, from in- ‘into’ + novare ‘make new’ (from novus ‘new’).
How uncomplicated: “Making into something new.” That’s what any worthwhile entrepreneur or leader of a business or a movement would call doing business and staying relevant.
How to innovate then, as it relates to branding, shows up in the form of:
- Disrupting the conventional approach to brand messaging and storytelling,
- Taking “divergent marketing steps” and doing the opposite of what’s expected (by the casual observer),
- Refusing to take incremental steps and instead of taking big, bold, eruptive leaps, and
- Designing the living crap out of something to bring out its inherent magic.
In short, how to innovate all comes down to dots.
(The original content of this article below appeared online in Fast Company four years ago, forming the foundation of much of the content you’re about to read and is as relevant today as it was then.)
What Separates True Innovators from Everyone Else? Steve Jobs, Richard Branson (both Billionaires), and Seth Godin Weigh In
In his famous commencement speech, Steve Jobs said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Did you know Sir Richard Branson has a mantra that runs through the DNA of each of his 500+ companies? That mantra is A-B-C-D. (Always Be Connecting the Dots).
In his manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin wrote how students today are educated in “collecting dots. Almost none of it spent teaching them the skills necessary to connect dots. The magic of connecting dots is that once you learn the techniques, the dots can change but you’ll still be good at connecting them.”
How to Innovate: Helping a Client Connect the Dots
Recently, I was speaking with a client who was noticing things needing correction and frustrated that employees were not seeing and addressing, the same things. (This client helps business owners and entrepreneurs with this exact problem.)
I responded stating, “It’s not a flaw of you seeing things and wanting to improve them that’s the problem. The actual problem is why your employees don’t also see those details.” He paused to take this in and nodded in the affirmation that this made sense.
I concluded that this was the single difference between the innovator and the ordinary person: the innovator saw the dots and connected them while others 1) didn’t see them or 2) if they did, they didn’t explore, question, or connect any of them.
This aspect of constant attentiveness to how things are (as distinct from how they could be) applies to companies, products, brands, as well as to personal brands and is the foundation for this thing we call innovation.
THE “WHAT IS INNOVATION?” VIDEO
Inspired by this discussion and some of today’s more brilliant minds, I decided to write an essay on innovation.
The closing lines of the essay struck a chord:
So what is innovation?
Those other dots.
The ones others miss.
And having the certainty to know that the dots you see are not only valid but necessary if the world is to move forward.
So once this was completed, I decided it would work as a script for a video (instead of solely as an essay) for my Fast Company column. So I asked the graphic motion designer Rafa Galeano to add motion, timing, pacing, and sound.
You can watch the result here:
This has resulted (to date) in over 275K views between YouTube and Vimeo views and continues to engage viewers, resulting in global companies showcasing requesting and showcasing this in their company’s special conferences (Dow Chemical is one of them).
It comes down to connecting these dots: innovate if you want to stay relevant and create a tomorrow worth building.