Innovation isn’t about ideas. It’s about execution.

By Dan Norris-Jones, co-founder at technology consultancy, Priocept

Innovation is a business buzzword that won’t go away. What’s more, it’s a term that’s full of misunderstanding. Most people immediately equate innovation with an ability to constantly spark new ideas. But this is to miss the point. Why? Because ideas are cheap. It’s the execution of the ideas that’s the true source of business innovation.

The reality is that businesses don’t generally suffer from a lack of fresh ideas. What they really suffer from is failure to let the best ideas find their way up to a senior level, and a failure to execute on those ideas. Ideas have to be acted upon, taken seriously and invested in; otherwise they come to nothing.

Unfortunately, the weak spot for most businesses lies in this execution. An idea might well be great – and it could unlock all types of growth – but until it’s executed, it doesn’t have any real value.

Apple has become a byword for innovation. But if you carefully analyse Apple’s products and their competitors’ products that came before, you can see that it often wasn’t Apple’s unique product ideas that got them where they are today. It was instead their relentless execution, pursuit of perfection and continual incremental improvement that resulted in the best and most desirable products.

Businesses that want a slice of Apple’s success will often make the mistake of thinking the solution is to invest more time in encouraging idea generation. But all this does is create an even longer “to-do” list; the equivalent of developing a white elephant that never gets acted upon, never gets delivered to customers and never generates any revenue.

Instead, businesses should put more time, attention and investment into exploiting the ideas that are already “out there” somewhere in the business. These are the ideas that buzz around the workforce but which typically don’t get heard or acted upon by the top level.

Most of Priocept’s clients have a long list of technology ideas, all of which would result in a better customer experience, growth in revenues or improved efficiency and profitability. What they struggle with is turning those ideas into effective working technology solutions, which is where external consultancies like us can help.

Innovation company 3M is almost legendary for its ability to continually innovate and develop successful new product ideas over many different industry sectors and consistently over many decades. And, yes, they have no single “ideas methodology”. What they do have, though, is a philosophy and process that encourages development and execution of ideas into real world products. Perhaps even more crucially, they foster a culture that tolerates the failures that inevitably come during this innovation process.

Businesses that are risk-averse, unwilling to accept failed projects and unwilling to make “big bets” on product development, will be severely limited in how many new and innovative products or services they can develop. This, in turn, severely limits growth, regardless of the rate at which ideas may be popping into employees’ heads.

Innovation is a buzzword for a very good reason: for many sectors, innovation is the secret weapon that underpins growth. But we need to move beyond the seductive idea that innovation comes from creatively churning out a steady stream of ideas. As the lesson from Apple shows, innovation stems from boldly executing on ideas and delivering products that do them justice. When it comes to innovation, the truth is that generating the idea is only the first 5% of the journey.


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