Innovation — it’s not rocket science (and that’s our problem)


I have heard it said quite often that innovation is a science.

I am more inclined to believe that, while there might be some science in the strategy of innovation, it is more of an art. In fact, if it were a science, I am convinced newspapers would be quite proficient at the task.

However, with an art, we are forced into the proverbial twilight zone and into a world we have little experience with. It is for this reason that newspaper companies have such a difficulty with innovation.

You see, when we in the newspaper industry can put together a perfectly logical plan — complete with focus groups, benchmarks, key status points, perfectly prepared outlines, and so forth — we’ve found our nirvana, our element, our world.

The problem with true innovation, however, is that it’s diametrically opposed to what I just outlined and described in the previous paragraph. Innovation is the polar opposite of logical, focus groups, benchmarks, status points, and so forth.

In essence, it is everything that newspapers and other declining industries have a very difficult time with.

Innovation is all about changing directions, modifying quickly on the fly, throwing out the old mission statements or objectives and writing new ones. It’s understanding that nothing will go as cleanly as planned because innovation takes us to places that we haven’t been before.

True innovators thrive in the world of organised chaos; non-innovators seek to assign blame or make excuses, even throwing others under the bus when things go wrong.

Innovators know that plans will be altered, changed, and slowed down on many fronts due to various reasons. Often, those with less of an entrepreneurial spirit seek or fail to truly grasp this concept.

Most importantly, true innovators understand that not every action is best-suited for those they intend to disrupt. The true test of an innovator is knowing when to go backward in order to move forward.

They understand that shoving a square peg into a round hole isn’t always the best course of action. They understand that square pegs fit best in square holes and round pegs fit best in round holes.

What does all this mean? It simply means that, in order to innovate in a meaningful way, we must shed the shackles of the traditional methods of doing business and let the true entrepreneurs take the lead.

It doesn’t mean that we must abandon all business sense for the unknown, but it does mean that we must be willing to take substantial risks in a time where money is tight and resources are few.

There are no easy ways. But the risk of not doing this is far greater than the risk of doing little or nothing. After all, the trend lines are indisputable — we innovate or we die!

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