In today’s disruptive world, one truth is beyond dispute: Innovation is absolutely critical for sustainable business growth.
McKinsey highlights the fact that 85% of CEOs rank innovation as one of their top three strategic imperatives. And for good reason. When executed properly, innovation can be truly game-changing. Consider how electricity, the steam engine, the fax machine, flight, the Internet and the mobile phone (to name just a few examples) had the power to move our collective societies forward.
With the democratization of technology, small upstarts now have the potential to disrupt major industries – and you won’t even see them coming. Consider Airbnb: Founded in 2008, the company now has 3,500 employees and is valued at $35 billion, making it the second most valuable startup in America (after Uber). In stark contrast, Hyatt Hotels, founded in 1957, has 45,000 employees with a market cap of $7.6 billion.
Uber offers another example. Founded in 2009, it has 16,000 employees globally and a market cap of $75 billion. Automaker BMW, founded in 1916, has roughly 135,000 employees globally and a market cap of $45 billion.
In all of these examples, consider the time to value and compare that to the employee cost to company.
That’s the power of innovation.
Exponential growth shouldn’t create the misconception that innovation is simple, however. Suppose you have an idea –perhaps it’s an idea for a new product or service, maybe it’s an idea for a new process to help your organization be more efficient, potentially saving it millions. To boost your chances of moving your idea forward in a meaningful way, there are critical skills that must be mastered. Let’s call them innovation superpowers. Mastering these super powers will provide a platform for others to sit up and take notice of your ideas, to get others to listen to what you have to say and what you have to contribute in making this world a better place, positively impacting the lives of billions.
1. Know how to tell a story
Walt Disney understood that people don’t want to just buy products and services – they want relationships, stories, and magic. In the modern age, we call this the experience economy, and with the inclusion of exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence, it has become known as the intelligent experience economy.
This notion of magic remains true to this very day. Walt Disney was one of the first to truly understand this idea of experience, and he built a billion-dollar business around it.
In today’s world, we are all pressed for time. Suppose you have an idea, and it’s a great one, a game changer. If you cannot explain your idea, capture and energize people around it and galvanize resources for it, you’ve already lost. Your idea has become the proverbial tree that falls in an empty forest: No one is around to hear it make a noise.
One of the greatest fallacies of innovation is that it’s the best ideas that win. The truth is, the best-presented ideas are the ones that often win. History is littered with examples of great ideas that didn’t make it.
To help make your idea one of the best-presented ones, you need to master the superpower of storytelling. And one of the biggest hurdles ideas face is to get the right audience to listen, to understand your idea, to take interest and care. A compelling story is much more powerful than simply relaying information. Stories allow your ideas to become relatable. Listeners become characters in your tale, and your ideas resonate more powerfully.
Stories make your ideas personal. Stories create empathy. Stories allow people to feel human and to buy into your vision, and once that happens, it’s much easier for them to become part of it. Suddenly, your idea becomes real; it’s no longer an abstract concept. That is the true power of stories, and that’s why the superpower of storytelling matters when it comes to innovation.
2. Be bold, be creative, be imaginative
There’s a great old adage that states, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”
The same philosophy can be applied to your ideas. Being smart is no longer enough. For every smart person, there are at least a thousand others, in different companies all over the world, who are even smarter. How are you planning to have your ideas stand out among the crowd in this interconnected world? How are you planning to demonstrate that your ideas matter?
You must be able to think differently, and for that, you need bravery, creativity, and imagination. Organizational leaders who embrace this philosophy have thrived in the digital age.
Consider Valve Corporation, a video-game development company in Seattle, Washington, that was founded in 1996. Outside of executive management, the company has no management structures, no reporting lines, no job descriptions. Employees work on teams, based on what interests them. By 2012, Valve was more profitable per employee than Google, Apple, or Microsoft.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that creativity is a natural-born talent either. Creativity is actually a way of operating. Next time you have an inspirational idea, focus on your surroundings. What were you doing, and where were you? Was it morning, afternoon, or evening? What triggered the inspiration?
The goal is to understand what your specific rituals and routines were in that specific moment of creative awareness and then reaffirm them over and over. This is how creativity becomes a habit or even a lifestyle of sorts. This is how you get to control your creative process and keep churning out ideas. Master this superpower and watch it yield results.
3. Have the necessary subject-matter expertise
You need to know what you are talking about. That doesn’t mean you must be the uber-expert in the domain of your idea, but you at least need to understand the fundamentals and how they relate to moving the business agenda forward.
This superpower is important because people don’t invest only in an idea. Ask any venture capitalist and they’ll tell you – they invest in people. Ideas change, but the people executing on them change less. They invest in personal equity: passion, purpose, potential, knowledge, expertise, and skills. Knowing your stuff when it comes to your idea gives you the confidence to tackle the difficult tasks. This confidence is visible when you communicate, and it creates an aura of competence that cultivates trust.
Become the go-to person for your idea, the face people associate with your idea, the champion of your idea. Embracing this superpower will give you credibility and confidence before and after pitching your idea.
4. Create clarity and a compelling vision
Take ownership of your idea. It is your idea, after all. Make sure you drive it, you give it life, you own it, you inspire others with it, you generate energy around it, you get the necessary resources for it – you, you, you. There will always be doubters who give you thousands of reasons why your idea will fail – but believe in your idea. When you are told that your idea is too radical, stay true to your vision and double down on it. Clearly articulate the business value and transformative impact of your idea.
Remember: If you don’t build your dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs. There’s nothing wrong with building other people’s dreams; it’s a path that most people take, and many are very successful. But make sure it’s a choice you make. Don’t just let it happen to you.
5. Get things done
Mastering this superpower is critical. If you can’t get things done, your idea will die, period! In fact, many entrepreneurs’ ideas die here, because they are unable to master this superpower and execute on their ideas.
There will always be unforeseen challenges and barriers, resource shortages, people issues, etc. Regardless, you must master the power of moving forward. An IDEO mantra reads, “Don’t get ready, get started.” Things will evolve from there. The quicker you start, the quicker you’ll learn, iterate, and evolve your idea.
Getting things done is the most critical superpower to ensure that your idea makes it from concept to execution. Consider this: The world would never have known Harry Potter if J.K. Rowling had given up after 10 manuscript rejections. Rowling’s brainchild was rejected 12 times before it was finally published, and the world hasn’t been the same since.
So what’s next for your idea, for the industry you find yourself in? What impact will your ideas have on the world? How will you use your ideas to create value and drive purpose that makes a difference? Master your innovation superpowers! Create a future that makes a better life for all of us.