On April 6th, 2021, Andy Woynarowski, CEO of 99grit - the creative agency changing the landscape of digital innovation in Europe, spoke with us at the Silicon Valley Design Thinking Club about what innovation is, how to set up an innovation culture and how not to kill it
What is Innovation? How to define it? Does it exist?
Innovation, according to Andy, is something that brings about a change of meaning.
Development of the Light Bulb (or making it commercially viable) by Thomas Alva Edison was an invention, for example, but not an innovation.
On the other hand, the meaning of a candle changed - from a source of light to something different - source of atmosphere, of smell, being put into architecture or interior design. Other examples are Uber - every car can be a taxi, and Airbnb - every home can be a hotel. This is what innovation actually is.
Solving problems, being customer-centric, supporting business goals - is not enough of an innovation if you are just trying to solve problems for a specific customer group or segment. Andy observes that Design thinking, Lean approach to product management, Design sprints, etc provide tools and methods on how to approach the mindset and area of innovation.
What is innovation culture and how do companies move towards that culture?
A culture of innovation, as per Andy, is a culture where the company has an understanding that failure is not a concept, it is a fact. There is an appreciation of failure before getting any results. The innovation culture takes resources, time & discipline. It involves bringing yourself up when you’ve fallen.
Methodologies like lean product management and design thinking add additional layers of validation and help fail faster.
Statistics show that 11 out of 12 startups fail, while in large organizations, 17 out of 18 internal innovations fail, despite, or because of, multiple entities involved such as finance, legislations, etc. Depending on where the organization is in its entire life cycle, in a large organization, even a small transformation, for example, digitization of a small process, making it faster, not necessarily different, is hugely innovative. In small organizations which are already agile, with not enough compliance, restrictions, etc in place, that kind of digitization may not be that innovative.
How not to kill innovation
Andy spoke about the research conducted by renowned researcher professor Dr Brene Brown that shows that the core emotional element of our being is our vulnerability. Negative and positive emotions, including creativity, joy & happiness - all come from vulnerability. Andy says that you cannot selectively numb one kind of vulnerability or the other. So, if you get into a stressful situation, for example, a difficult boss judging your idea, you build a wall against not just negative emotions, but positive emotions as well, like creativity and joy. If there is criticism of creative ideas, innovation & creativity dies. The spark dies very quickly.
Andy recommends creating an environment of innovation, that is without fear or judgement. Even a small ‘Haha’ (laughing at ideas) will discourage the person to bring out new ideas in the future. Joking can kill innovation. If we don’t watch for these things, Andy says, they can affect innovation in a very negative way.
In summary, innovation is something where you take one thing, and you change it completely to mean something else. Create a culture where you are ready to fail. The environment you create for any project should be without shame, fear or any judgement. A culture where ideas are not laughed at, and failure is encouraged.