The Best Innovators Don’t Care About Innovating

“Successful innovators care about solving interesting and important problems — innovation is merely a byproduct. If this distinction seems like hair-splitting, it isn’t. The two focuses create vastly different realities,” according to the Harvard Business Review.

“Focusing on innovating — as a worthy goal unto itself — tends to be born from self-centered motives: We need to protect ourselves from competitive forces. We need to ensure we have a growth engine. We need to keep up with other companies. To do all these things, we need to innovate. This is often a CYA perspective coming from an executive suite looking to protect its turf. It isn’t inherently bad. It’s just that this focus tends to create a culture where customers are on the sidelines, not in the center of the dialogue.”

“By contrast, focusing on solving interesting and important problems tends to be born from customer-centered motives: What’s going on with this set of customers? Where are they ecstatic? Where are they upset? Where do they feel good? Where do they hurt? How can we better serve them? These types of questions pull customer problems front-and-center and create a culture where that’s expected. And since people naturally want to solve problems, it pulls for innovation.”

Key takeaway: “Successful innovation is a mindset before it’s a process or outcome. It’s characterized by a dogged determination to see the world through your customers’ eyes. That mindset drives all the little details and decisions that can’t be captured in a process. So how can you foster this mindset if it’s not already present in your organization? The simple answer is you just start doing it, even if you’re the only one.”

For more on this theme, check out the highly-recommended book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson.