When discussing innovation, it’s common to talk about successes; goals accomplished or products launched. In reality, only 1 to 5% of all innovations are successful. So, a good rule of thumb is that one in every 20 innovations succeeds. But that doesn’t mean that the one successful innovation is all puppies and sunshine. And that certainly holds for our own innovation Accept Mission. In this Director’s Cut, I will tell you more about our setbacks on the great and challenging road that is called innovation.
No successful innovation without adoption
When we are talking about ‘successful’ in relation to innovation, a number of things are of interest. First, an innovation is not an innovation until it is realised. Second, an innovation is only successful when it is adopted, internally and by the end user. If that is something you want to achieve, then it’s wise to pull out your best battle suit and dust off your perseverance. Because you will face setbacks, no matter how good your (idea for an) innovation is. These are the setbacks we experienced and had to overcome to get our innovative brainstorming tool Accept Mission accepted.
1. Discussion about the motivation or issue
The motivation behind our innovation was that organising brainstorms is time – and money-intensive. At the same time, we are convinced that crowdsourcing leads to the best results in solving a problem. Our question or issue was: Can we digitalize this process of brainstorming and still deliver the same results? And how do we do it?
From the moment we raised this issue and asked this question out loud, the first setbacks occurred. Simply because everyone has an opinion, and in many cases even straight away. Some people are immediately enthusiastic and ‘on’. Others just shut down. For the best results though, you want both sides aboard the project. This is why we targeted the ‘shut down’ people; we explained a lot and showed them examples of our experience.
2. The loud cheering that turns out to be not so loud
After many days and nights and blood, sweat and tears, you finally have a concept of which you think it might be a solution. To be honest, you think it’s brilliant, as do the others who worked on it. It totally makes sense. Of course, it’s not 100%, but it’s good enough to test. And secretly, you can already hear them cheer.
But testing your concepts leads to a whole new set of reactions. Ranging from ‘I have no idea how this would work in real life’ to ‘to be honest, I don’t think this is going to work’. And both are right. The solution is not finished yet. It is merely a well-reasoned concept. And with all the enthusiasm you can find, you go back to explaining. I do not need to tell you how important your own belief in your solution is at this stage. However, don’t shut yourself off. Eventually, all feedback will improve your innovation and teach you where you have more explaining to do.
3. Inside ambassadors on board?
Adoption of a development is easiest for the people who are closest to it, or most involved. In our process, a number of people were closely involved. Behind them were colleagues who knew some details, and even further behind them, there was a group of colleagues who barely knew anything at all about the innovation. Especially with the latter group, things that didn’t go well tended to stick more than the successes. And that was not good news for internal adoption.
We had to communicate more. Specifically, share and celebrate more (small) successes. That is not easy when you are evolving constantly and have big ambitions. But if you don’t celebrate successes, you will lose people along the way. And to the outside world, it looks like in your project more goes wrong than right.
4. You’ve got issues….
The product is launched! You are proud, happy and – to be honest – also a bit relieved. The innovation is being used by small and large companies. A whole new phase, in which projects are becoming increasingly challenging. Suddenly, we are doing missions with thousands of agents and multiple smaller missions simultaneously.
During the first large test, issues and performance challenges arise that we’ve never discovered before. Just when we thought we made it. In this phase, it is very important to realise that this is part of the process too: innovation does not run smoothly. What matters is how you deal with it. Resilience is your most important strength here.
5. Why isn’t my phone ringing off the hook?
The innovation works, clients are happy and everyone we talk to is enthusiastic. But hold on, why aren’t ‘t people in line to use it and why is the phone not ringing off the hook?
In the beginning, every sales meeting led to a deal. We were hot and happening. And we still are, but potential clients don’t value that as much now. So, we continue telling our constantly improving story, we continue to explain and take people by the hand, through the process that has become so familiar to us. And when we do that, it still goes well. This is a very typical and widespread phenomenon in the innovation process and surely something to include in your internal expectations management.
For a successful innovation process, you will need to be in for the long haul and manage expectations accordingly. To get an innovation adopted, you will be talking a lot, but you will be listening to a lot too. Even when you think you are there and it’s time to rest and enjoy. But when you do finish, when you do succeed, the proud feeling of small and large successes is worth the ride and the patience and the perseverance. So, if you want to innovate, go for it. Pull out your battle suit, dust off that perseverance, let yourself become wiser and don’t let anything throw you off track.