Innovation Myths Debunked: Part II

Top 8 Popular Myths about Innovators and Innovation – Debunked! (Part 2 of 2)

Top 8 Popular Myths about Innovators and InnovationToday’s business world is buzzing with talk about innovators and innovation. While it’s a good thing that innovation is on the forefront of people’s minds, popular thinking about innovation and the culture of innovation in business is often substantially misguided. There are widespread myths about innovation and innovators that lead to significant misconceptions and can ultimately even hinder or destroy the innovation process. In the previously published blog on this site, entitled “Top 8 Popular Myths about Innovators and Innovation—Debunked! (Part 2 of 2)”, the following four myths were discussed and then debunked:

  • Innovators are born not made;
  • Innovation is about the newest thing;
  • Innovators work alone; and
  • Innovation is a matter of luck.

This instant blog will present (and then debunk) the following additional popular myths about innovators and innovation:

High-tech companies drive all new innovation. Since we are living in a fast-paced technological era, many people mistakenly believe that all innovation is technology-based and assume that only high-tech companies (i.e., Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard Company, IBM, and etc.) are the only companies driving innovation in the world. False! You don’t have to be a technologist or a technology-based company to be innovative.

Innovation can come in my forms; for example, there are currently companies in industries including but not limited to retail, services, publishing, and crowdfunding that have driven innovation in unexpected but highly successful ways. An example of businesses in the retail industry who tried something new would be the subscription box-based model where subscribers pay in advance to receive curated boxes of products. Popular names in this industry include Birchbox (the early pioneer in this innovative ecommerce model), BarkBox, Dollar Shave Club, and ipsy). In the publishing industry, BuzzFeed is often credited with inventing and reinventing embeddable features for their published content such as sliders. Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are companies that are not in the technology space, but still successfully came up with and drove forward many impressive new innovations, which weren’t even always technical innovations either.

While high-tech companies often develop many innovations, innovation is definitely not limited to technology-based companies. Any company, regardless of its size, location, or industry, can drive innovation; such innovations may relate to the company’s services and products and to it internal business procedures. The closed-minded myth that innovation is for technology-based companies alone, discredits the importance of all the different functions that a company needs in order to effectively implement an innovation and ultimately transform the innovation into a profit-making product or service for the company.

Within companies, innovation only happens in the engineering and R&D departments. In some companies, top leadership delegates innovation responsibility to only their Engineering and Research and Development (“R&D”) departments. While the company may see productive innovation activity arise out of these departments, this narrow approach often fails to identify valuable innovations that originate in other areas of the company. Sometimes the most creative and innovative ideas come from employees that do not have any formal scientific or engineering training because they are not burdened and biased by rigid scientific education and training. Thus, they are free to analyze problems and come up with new ideas from completely different angles that are not limited to pre-existing systems and products.

As discussed in a previously published blog on this site: product experts, corner-office execs, and R&D teams don’t always come up with the most innovative ideas; but rather, it’s often the employees on the front lines who do. Professional expertise alone doesn’t lead to innovation and new product development; life experiences are just as valuable, if not more valuable to the innovation process. Just consider the case of telecommunication giant AT&T. Have you heard of  AT&T’s exceptionally popular Drive Mode app (a mobile app that can be set-up to automatically send a customizable reply to incoming messages when the vehicle starts moving at 25 mph, in order to reduce a driver’s temptation to look away from the road at his or her incoming text messages)? Did you know that this app was the brainchild of an AT&T call center employee (not a scientist, engineer, or member of the R&D department) who was personally affected by the dangers or texting-while driving?

Innovative ideas arrive in a “eureka” moment. Great innovation—often considered the pinnacle of human imagination—is frequently romanticized in the business world. Part of this romanticizing includes the idea of the the “eureka moment”—the moment of almost divine clarity and inspiration where a breakthrough innovation is made. The idea of the eureka moment is deeply ingrained in the folklore of innovation in business. By the way,  the word “eureka” comes from the Ancient Greek word “εὕρηκα heúrēka”, which means in English “I have found (it).”[1]

There’s the story of Archimedes life-changing discovery in the bathtub that supposedly caused him to shout, “Eureka! Eureka!” His eureka discovery was the principle of hydrostatics, which is the science of how solid bodies behave in liquid. Similarly, we still tell the story of how in 1589, Italian scientist Galileo is said to have dropped two balls of different masses off the Leaning Tower of Pisa to disprove existing beliefs about the way objects fall and to instead demonstrate that their time of descent was independent of their respective masses. And of course, one of the most famous (and embellished) stories in the history of science is the tale of a young Isaac Newton who was simply minding his own business and sitting in his garden when an apple fell from a tree and hit his head. And then, in a stroke of brilliant eureka insight, Galileo suddenly came up with his theory of gravity.

The eureka myth—the notion that all creative ideas come suddenly in a flash of a brilliant eureka moment—is certainly seductive; but for the vast majority of innovations, it is completely untrue. The problem with the eureka myth is that glosses over the tireless work and concentration required of the vast majority of innovative ideas. If innovation was easy, everyone would do it—but it’s most definitely not. Even genius inventor Albert Einstein is reported to have said, “Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”[2]

Innovation is random. Myth: innovation is random. Reality: innovation is usually structured and disciplined and can be measured and managed. As discussed in both Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival and Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation, To prevent getting infinitely stuck in the ideation phase wasteland, remember that innovation typically doesn’t fail due to a lack of creativity but rather due to a lack a discipline.

Innovation without implementation is mere ideation. And “mere” ideation can often be expensive, morale-killing, and potentially business-imploding. To keep from getting perpetually stuck in the quick-sand wasteland that is the ideation phase, remember that innovation typically doesn’t fail due to a lack of creativity but rather due to a lack a discipline and structure. Innovation is both an art and a science; as such, in order to get results, your organization must both follow a structured, repeatable process for innovation and have a plan in place to actually implement the innovation plans. Structure doesn’t stifle creativity but rather it lets it germinate and grow in a manner most likely to be successful.

For more information about how to promote and implement innovation at your company, check out the innovation books Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival and the recently published Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation.



[2] See Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, edited by Gyles Brandreth (p. 167)