I just finished reading Larry Osborne's book "Innovations Dirty Little Secret." Here's some insight from it, and it may even spur you to get it, and read it. Larry Osborne is a senior pastor at North Coast Church in Northern San Diego County. Osborne speaks extensively on leadership and spiritual formation.
Here you go....Enjoy!!
Innovation has a secret, a dirty little secret. Those who extol the necessity of innovation seldom mention it. They try to sweep it under the rug or tuck it away in the closet. They ignore it in the hope that it will just go away, yet its shadow looms over every attempt we make to break out of the box and try something new.
What is the dirty little secret of innovation? It’s simply this: Most innovations fail. They always have, and they always will.
Genuine serial innovators possess a special insight. They have an uncanny knack for predicting what will and won’t work and how large groups of people will respond to a new idea. At times it seems as if they can see around corners. But it’s not magic or clairvoyance. It’s simply the way their brains work.
They have a God-given ability to mentally model various outcomes and to do so with blinding speed and uncommon accuracy. They are much like chess masters who see several moves ahead (and the potential results of each move). Serial innovators size up a situation and quickly extrapolate what will happen if and when various options are chosen. They not only see the natural consequences, they also see the unintended consequences that most people miss. Yet if you ask them how they know those things, they’ll often tell you they “just know.”
I now realize that serial innovators are born, not made. Just as someone with perfect pitch hears what others can’t hear, innovators see what others can’t see. It’s in their DNA. They can’t help it. They’re weird. This doesn’t mean that you’re shut out from innovative and creative leadership if you weren’t born with these traits. Far from it. But it does mean that if you are going to innovate, you will have to find ways to identify the fledgling innovators in your midst and support some of their seemingly crazy ideas.
One of the keys that serial innovators have is an exit strategy—a planned, graceful way out. Think of it as keeping your options open. It can include everything from an escape clause to simply making sure there’s enough wiggle room for some serious midcourse corrections if things don’t go as planned.
There are several ways to keep your options open. More often than not, all it takes is carefully chosen words, using the right terminology to describe your vision. Whenever possible, describe any change or new initiative using the language of experimentation. In other words, never make a change when you can conduct an experiment or a trial run. Experiments provide wiggle room. People expect that experiments and trial runs will need midcourse corrections. No one is shocked if they fail. And when they fail, the cost in lost trust and credibility is essentially zero.
Ultimately it’s not just the quality of an idea or the persistence of the innovator that determines whether an idea succeeds or fails, it’s also the environment. Corporate culture (the values, traditions, and policies that guide a particular organization’s behavior) is often far more important to the success or failure of a new idea than the brilliance of the idea or the doggedness of its backers. There are environments and corporate cultures that ignite innovation. There are others that foster, incubate, or accelerate it. And there are some that kill it before it ever gets off the ground. Successful innovation isn’t found in the avant-garde. It’s not an endless quest to be more creative, novel, and inventive. It’s not even found in the search for the better solution. It’s found in the right solution, the one that works and is widely adopted because people believe it makes their lives better.
It doesn’t matter whether you are leading a church, a nonprofit, or a business. To identify the programs, processes, and policies that are most ripe for innovation and change, step back and ask yourself, “What frustrates me most?” And then ask, “What’s broken most?” When you’ve come up with your answers, attack the problem. Relentlessly pursue every possible alternative. You might not be able to come up with a solution on your own, but eventually someone will offer a solution. And I guarantee that it won’t be someone who accepts the status quo or who says, “That’s just the way it is; there’s nothing we can do about it.” It will be someone who is frustrated.
The fact is, great teams ship. They get to market when others are still figuring out if there’s a market or where the market is. They know that innovation needs action. And they know that inaction because of an excessive aversion to risk eventually becomes an unintended aversion to success and innovation.
Studies show that when major changes or innovations are introduced, only a small percentage of people become early adopters. Most people wait and take their cues from others. They hold back and want to know who else is supporting the change before they jump aboard. Those are the people who most need a respected champion. Without that champion, many are just like the children of Israel, pleading to return to Egypt when they don’t reach the Promised Land as soon as they expect. A respected champion can convince people to stay the course.
We don’t really know what something is—whether it’s a new product, a new program, or some other innovation—until it hits the real world. Only then do we know what we have on our hands. Until then it’s merely a concept or a theory. Only after it has been released into the wild can we know how it will actually work, how people will respond to it, and what it wants to be. That’s why we should always plan and innovate in pencil. And not just at the beginning when we’re coming up with new and creative ideas. Use a pencil all the way through the lifecycle. Make plans, but always be ready to change them at a moment’s notice.
Ultimately, all a leader can do is prepare the horse for battle. The final outcome is out of our control. Even the wisest leaders and serial innovators must deal with innovation’s dirty little secret and the failures that come with it. But there are certain things we can do along the way to ignite innovation. There are other things we can do to accelerate it or sabotage it. But many years from now the most important thing will not be the innovations that bear our names; it will be the innovators and leaders who stand on our shoulders.