One of the big buzz words these days is innovation, but what exactly does that mean? According to Merriam Webster, we can define innovation as the introduction of something new or a new idea, method or device.
One will quickly find that the ability to identify an idea is rather simple — the human brain has about 50,000 ideas each day it processes — so there is no question we have the ability to think of ideas. The ability to take those ideas, implement them and more importantly get widespread acceptance by the users or customer base is the key to true innovation.
Take, for example, the history of the elevator. In 1857, Elisha Otis began installing elevators in buildings. Prior to this, people would walk up flights of stairs if they wanted to go from one floor to the next and the idea of a machine traveling from floor to floor was rather interesting, if not confusing, and invoked some fear.
In order for the people of a building to feel a sense of safety, elevator companies and building owners began implementing an elevator operator who would greet the guests as they entered and assist them in going to the floor they desired.
This was to create community, trust and belief in the process.
Fast forward to today, we see elevators in every building and users enter in a task-like fashion, hit a button or swipe a badge, and the elevator automatically takes them to their destination. No elevator operator required because the users have adopted the system, accepting the machine will do the work for them without any errors, glitches or potential safety issues.
So what can be learned from an elevator? First, innovation initially does not always feel comfortable. Because humans are naturally wired to resist change for protection, they will ultimately avoid pain and seek pleasure. Thus, a new product or service is a risk, potential pain, and people don't want to push the limits of their comfort zones to try it out. Be ready for this pushback and have a strategy for understanding in a desire to gain ultimate acceptance.
Second, the acceptance of new innovation usually requires some type of training wheels in order to successfully test the new product or service. With any innovation, there needs to be a process or system of building the bridge from before the innovation to the new place where the innovation has transformed their experience and ultimately their life.
Third, if innovation is allowed to really take root, the future impact can be truly life-changing. Innovation requires a long-term focus on change; it will not happen over days or months and it can take years or decades to truly impact change through innovation. One important aspect of this last step is the idea of inclusion, not exclusion. It should not be a situation where people who have not adopted or accepted the change are segregated; the innovator needs to find ways for inclusion to help gain a wider acceptance of the innovation.
Without the understanding of how innovation works and the right culture to nurture and harvest innovation not only will organizations struggle to innovate, but they will hinder their ability to attract and retain quality talent to help it grow. If innovation is allowed to grow and transform the way people interact, over time, the innovation will revolutionize the way in which life is lived and teams operate.
Innovation can be challenging, it can be scary, and it can even be seen as a misuse of resources, but when properly nurtured, it can mimic the elevator and take you to new levels rapidly.