Five Principles of Innovation

By: Jeff Cowart, MAH

Innovation is a pressing objective for leaders. Search the word in Google and you’ll find over 397 million hits. But what is “innovation?” And how do successful leaders think about innovating within their respective enterprises?

“In times of rapid and radical change, strong leaders learn to `see’.”

The challenges differ from organization to organization, and strategies that work for one may not apply to others. However, across the board, strong leaders share the drive to find fresh ideas to advance their companies. Below are some inspiring quotes to help you embrace the journey.

  • “The real voyage of discovery comes not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust. Innovation, creativity, successful entrepreneurship are all based on cultivating the personal ability to see the current state in new ways and create new paths from what is. In times of radical and rapid change, strong leaders learn to “see.”
  • “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only one we have.” – Emile Chartier. To truly drive innovation and balance our lives, we need to come to grips with the reality that we tend to fall in love with our own stuff. Powerful ideas come not only from challenging our own myths, habits and practices, but in collaborating with others who have different great stuff.
  • “Simplicity and common sense should characterize planning and strategic direction.”  – Ingvar Kamrad. The founder of Ikea framed his retail idea around common sense. The foundational idea for Southwest Airlines was sketched out on a cocktail napkin in a San Antonio bar in 1967. As our enterprises create more and more forced structure to evaluate things, don’t forget to hang on to and honor simplicity in big ideas.
  • “Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.”  – Albert Einstein. Einstein is often quoted as saying, “Imagination is more important than knowledge…” While he clearly understood the power of the imagination, Einstein’s take on innovation is powerful because it adds a deeper dimension to the process. Inspiration (and sometimes wild creative imagination) are foundational fuel for innovation, but, once conceived, ideas require logical structure and systems to succeed.
  • “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.”  – W. L. Bateman. How many businesses have struggled because they were unable to frame the future apart from the conventions of their successful past? Successful organizations leverage what they’ve learned from the past and appropriately contextualize those lessons to current and future states. As Proust said it’s about “having new eyes.” Innovation cannot be achieved if our vision remains fixed on a world we once knew and loved that looks so inviting in the rearview mirror.

These are not the only universal truths of innovation and change. But, it never hurts to overlay a little dose of philosophical reflection on the matrix of our ideas.