Sustainable Innovation Preparation

Day 60 Week 9 Q1  Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Preparing to innovate for a sustained period of time requires having available the necessary resources. The CEO of a company has the primary responsibility to ensure adequate supplies, skills and funds to deliver the results executed by the shareholders as represented by the board. Tech companies can not deliver products without a lab, a team and equipment.

As an innovator, you are the CEO of your own innovation process. You must ensure this innovation is sustainable by not running out of these critical resources, including your innovation state of mind. It is easy to disrupt creative processes, and innovation is not immune from the myriad of distractions that naturally occur, as, after all, you have to attend to more than innovation. 

When a musician is performing and a guitar or microphone fails, spares must be available for the show to go on. If you or your team are in the throws of innovating, you need to be ready with redundant resources. This can be tricky because innovation is, by definition, wrestling with the unknown, making complete conscious awareness of what is needed, although sometimes impossible to determine. 

The more experience one gains in innovating, the easier it becomes to anticipate what is needed. Of course, when changing domains or beginning a new project with different goals, all bets are off because it may not even be knowable a’ priori what is needed. In my case, this is some of the most fun, as if there is zero risk, there is also probably zero innovation. In other words, innovators are generally not as risk-averse as their stakeholders. 

For me, if there is no danger at all, it is not sufficiently exciting to engage me totally. This is why I primarily play jazz, as improvisation is baked into the recipe. And it is also why most musicians do not venture into these waters. It is too risky, and they might make a mistake. If you expect to be perfect, then you had better not improvise, for you will surely make some mistakes, and all performances are not of equal quality. 

The same is true for sustainable innovation and innovators. There is no getting around the fact that there is always some risk. How does one prepare for the unknown? By being experienced and secure enough to not freak out when the inevitable problems arise. 

But have a spare microscope, microphone, or microprocessor on hand, depending on your domain. And have some people you can call to ask for advice when you turn on the process or business unit and it does not smoothly start.

The very best preparation for sustainable innovation is to practice not beating yourself up when mishaps materialize. Expect them, for they will always occur, and these can be the most fruitful of times. This is most likely to occur at the intersection of two different disciplines where two different sets of priorities, experiences and expectations must be reconciled. This is where the most growth occurs. Be prepared for this.