In my first book Great TED Talks: Innovation, I share the words of wisdom from 100 speakers and condenses their ideas into accessible advice for becoming more innovative in how you approach and organize your life. But I wanted to share the story behind the book. After interviewing John Sculley, Guy Kawaski, and Marylene Delbourg-Delphis on my podcast about the golden era of innovation at Apple, it’s a subject that has always fascinated me.
However, innovation and digital transformation are two of the most loosely defined business topics that dangerously flirt with buzzword status. But together they are responsible for a new generation of business models and disrupting others in the process. However, technology is not the star of the show, it’s the human element behind the innovation strategies that deliver the ways of working–that businesses need to succeed.
As an eternal optimist, I have spent my lockdown time researching how, throughout history, economic recessions have been a catalyst for innovation. Recently, there have been many great examples of how brands have pivoted their business model to help people affected by the coronavirus and thrive in a post-COVID-19 world.
My aim was for individuals and companies to use the 100+ best practices on innovation in this book to reinvent themselves to succeed in the post-COVID-19 world. However, it took me by surprise when it reached number one on the Amazon Best Seller list for new releases. But the biggest lesson I have learned is that we are all surrounded by innovation.
“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.” – Steve Jobs
Innovations in technology have also made it possible for employees to work and meet virtually with their colleagues in a way that keeps everyone safe. But this is just the beginning. A dramatic reduction in resources means that businesses will need to be innovative to do more with less. But what is innovation?
A quick Google search will deliver many different interpretations from a variety of self-proclaimed thought leaders, ninjas, and gurus. After being commissioned to write a book on the subject, I spent many hours watching hundreds of Ted Talks where speakers shared their experiences with innovation and the digital transformation of everything.
Unlocking the innovation blind spots in your business
Sure, for the most part, it has all been done before. But innovation often involves taking what you already have and transforming existing or unoriginal ideas into something entirely new. In Noémie Delfassy’s TEDx Talk, she spoke about the importance of finding your blindspots. “The powerful mind thinks it knows better. And it blinds us from seeing reality as it is. And we become stubborn in our ways.”
Embracing diversity of thought
Contrary to popular belief, groundbreaking ideas are not confined to the minds of elite teams of creative thinkers. Every one of us is armed with an innovative mindset and a creative spark. It’s just that we often leave. Diversity and inclusion are crucial when building a culture of innovation.
The big questions are: Are diverse organizations more innovative? Can diversity be more than something to comply with? Can it be a real competitive advantage? Management consultant and diversity researcher Rocío Lorenzo surveyed 171 companies, and the answer was a resounding yes to all of the above. “Companies that are more diverse are more innovative, and companies that are more innovative have more diverse leadership.”
Can you design an innovative culture?
How do you access your inner innovator? Dr. Amantha Imber is an innovation psychologist, science nerd, and founder and CEO of Inventium. Using a science-based methodology, the company has helped more than 200,000 people become better innovators and have promoted a culture in which innovation thrives. So where do most businesses go wrong?
According to Dr. Imber, seeking out challenges is the number one most impactful thing that you can do to drive innovation. So, rather than brainstorming for innovative ideas in a room full of people, you need to find challenges. When you feel challenged, you are 67 percent more likely to be innovative. So where should you begin?
“The first thing you need is a big challenge, something that excites you and maybe scares you too. You then need the skills. You need the right match between the challenge and the skill so that you’ve got the skills to rise to that challenge. And then finally, you need the resources, time, and money to be able to solve that challenge.”
Fighting The Fear of Change
Despite living in a digital age of exponential change, fear of innovation continues to hold back individuals and entire companies. Innovation is not about providing a platform for self-appointed creatives to lead the way; it’s about ensuring that everyone within your organization feels comfortable about putting their innovative ideas forward.
Do you remember when Xerox, Kodak, Nokia, and Blockbuster appeared to be untouchable? Seemingly out of nowhere, they were blindsided by start-ups that disrupted their industry. The problem is that large a corporation can quickly become a prisoner of its own corporate structure, process, and culture. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” is the mantra, and the entire corporate machine will continue doing exactly as it has done for years.
However, business model lifecycles are much shorter than they used to be, and preparing for an uncertain future has become a priority because of COVID-19. In his TED Talk, design thinker Joshua Lavra hammered home this point by highlighting that 88 percent of the Fortune 500 companies that existed fifty years ago no longer exist.
Customers are the architects of innovation
We live in an age of one-click checkouts, where we can access a favorite book, album, or movie with the swipe of a smartphone. It’s not the big tech companies pushing these changes, however, but the users and their continuously rising expectations. By removing traditional pain points, the landscape now looks very different.
Facebook doesn’t create content, Alibaba has no inventory, and Airbnb has more rooms than any hotel chain but doesn’t own any real estate. Way back in 2009, in the wake of the U.S. financial crisis of 2007–08, CEO and columnist John Gerzema delivered a TED talk about what he called the great unwind. With thirteen trillion dollars in wealth having evaporated in just two years, people were beginning to question capitalism. This was the moment that the consumer was starting to take back control and demand total transparency.
Although this TED talk is over 10 years old, it feels more relevant than ever.
Adversity can drive innovation
We all celebrate our successes online and are guilty of creating our own highlight reels on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook. We proudly showcase ourselves accepting awards or celebrating our achievements. But we don’t learn anything from our highs. It’s the mistakes, missteps, and failures that offer the most value. So why are we so afraid of failure?
Every person reading this post will face adversity during his or her lifetime. The problem is that many of us will also allow failures or challenges to hold us back. Maybe we should look at adversity differently and flip it to our advantage. For example, on your innovation journey, how many of your perceived barriers are real?
In her talk, founder and CEO of Customer Fanatix Heather Younger urges her audience to take control of adversity and make it work for themselves by embracing cognitive reframing—a psychological technique that can help anyone identify those dreaded irrational or maladaptive thoughts. Younger explains how reframing can enable entire teams to view ideas, concepts, and emotions in a different light to help them discover more positive alternatives and therefore become more innovative as a result.
Trust and transparency
Businesses now need to be transparent, inclusive, and accountable. Do you remember a time when we only placed our trust in governments, banks, and businesses? In recent years, our concept of trust has been transformed. We routinely check user reviews on Trip Advisor before booking a holiday and read consumer reviews on Amazon before we hit the one-click checkout button.
Author Rachel Botsman uses her talks to highlight how we are increasingly seeking the advice of strangers. Platforms such as Airbnb and Uber are thriving thanks to the technology that removes the need for intermediaries. As emerging technologies such as Blockchain begin to gather pace, Botsman believes that we could be entering a new era of trust and transparency.
Every day, five million people take a trust leap and ride with Uber. In China, on the ride-sharing platform Didi, eleven million rides are made each day. That’s 127 rides per second, showing that this is a cross-cultural phenomenon. These are just two examples of how technology is creating trust between people on a scale never possible before.
Innovation is a marathon, not a sprint
We live in an age of instant gratification where tangible results are delivered on-demand. We are surrounded by technological change that is moving forward at a breathtaking speed, and the reality facing every business leader is that it will never move this slowly again. But don’t be fooled into believing that the pace of digital development can help you change the world overnight. Instead of focusing on quick fixes for his or her problems, an effective leader must play the long game toward becoming a winning innovator.
Innovation is misunderstood and feared by many organizations, who foolishly think that it’s a rare gift only enjoyed by the privileged few in leadership roles. But the secret to success involves identifying the talents within your entire team. Only then can you work through the innovation process together.
Individuals seldom drive innovation; it takes a collaborative environment to change organizational behavior. In his talk, Marco Alverà explains how his company works to create a culture of fairness that taps into our innate sense of what’s right and wrong. If you are serious about getting the best out of people, show them how much you care. That is the moment where they will leave their fears behind and bring their authentic selves to work. The reason why every leader isn’t making fairness a priority is baffling.
I attempted to use my lockdown time as an opportunity to learn from the world’s greatest innovators and help others on their innovation journey. TED talks can enable you to see the world differently and from multiple perspectives. But, it’s down to you how you use a combination of these skills and your passion for creating something new to solve real problems.
Although it might feel daunting at first, you have nothing to fear. You can follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest innovators of our time, people who have left a clear path. Where did we come from? Are we alone in the universe? What is the future of the human race? These are just a few of the questions that many of us think about. Professor Stephen Hawking also tackles such questions in his 2008 talk.
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the Universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” – Stephen Hawking
Hawking offers a warning that our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain looking inwardly on planet Earth, but to spread out into space. He goes on to say that he feels lucky that his disability has not been a serious handicap. “Indeed, it has probably given me more time than most people to pursue the quest for knowledge.”
Stephen Hawking was science’s brightest star and will be remembered for being one of the greatest minds of our time. In questioning the universe, he quickly realized that time is our most precious resource and that making mistakes is important. On this same subject, Hawking once famously quipped, “without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.”
Hawking was an eternal optimist and had a great sense of humor. He taught me to have a sense of purpose, never to give up, and always to be curious—all of which are the essential traits required to innovate.
Innovation is a journey, not a destination. Embedding a culture of innovation takes a great deal of time and commitment. Having watched hundreds of talks on the subject of innovation, I attempted to take the lessons I learned from 100 TED speakers and form a guide that will help any individual or business embrace innovation. If you would like to find out more, my book, Great TED Talks: Innovation: An Unofficial Guide with Words of Wisdom from 100 TED Speakers is released today.
Please share your digital transformation stories and your innovation journey by commenting below.