People think innovation is difficult

Often we might hear people say “I think it is difficult to innovate in this industry!”. In fact people from all industries say this. Instead they could say “I think it is difficult to innovate!”

The paradox is that it is comparatively easy to have ideas. With the right environment and encouragement almost everybody comes-up with lots of ideas. So why is it that people have this view that innovation is so difficult?

Many ideas to bigger ideas

Probably because it is true, and the people who say it have experienced it themselves. Converting an idea into an innovation is hard work, and it is also risky. What seemed like a good idea when you thought of it often doesn’t look so good when you try to develop it or market it. Sometimes it fails the first time you describe it to your peers.

Once somebody experiences such failure they are often reluctant to try it again. They might be embarrassed, feeling accused of wasting resources, or have self-doubt. This is described as the classic “fear of failure” that afflicts so many people.

It is also a downward spiral. It feels like a mountain that is too difficult to climb and not even worth trying. It is a self-defeating mind-set.

That mind-set is reinforced if the experience is repeated therefore the most experienced people are also the worst sufferers. They are the leaders, decision makers and mentors in an organization. No matter how innovative they want to be, such an organization is likely to be risk averse.

Making innovation easier

First, let’s agree; innovation is never easy.

But we can also observe and agree that some organizations are more innovative than others. How do they do that?

One answer is by having a corporate culture that supports innovation. This is easy to say yet difficult to achieve, partly because the key aspects of such a culture are difficult to define, and partly because you cannot simply create a culture, it has to be nurtured and grown over a period of time.

The culture can include structural elements such as a stringent innovation process, external collaborations, idea management platforms, and budgeting. Human resource elements such as recruiting the right talent and exhibiting the right leadership behaviours. It also includes elements that are often considered to be nice to have and not critical, such as an inspiring workplace environment.

Another key element is an organisation’s tolerance to failure. One way to improve that is to have better ideas.

What that really means is to have ideas with a higher chance of success, or ideas with higher potential. If the organization perceives them this way it is more likely to risk investing to develop the idea further. Not only that, but the organization’s approach will be more positive, and this too increases the chance of success.

How do you get better ideas?

One method is described by Tim Brown in his Harvard Business Review article in June 2008 when writing about Thomas Edison and the lightbulb; “Thus Edison’s genius lay in his ability to conceive of a fully developed marketplace, not simply a discrete device. He was able to envision how people would want to use what he made, and he engineered toward that insight”.

Link to IDEO website – Harward Buisness Review

In this case the idea wasn’t just the lightbulb, it was something much bigger than that, and Edison managed to keep the fragile idea of the lightbulb alive long enough that he could develop the wider and deeper proposal around it.

In other words he turned an idea into a better idea.

Design thinking put into practice

In his article Tim Brown goes on to describe that Edison’s approach is what we now call “design thinking”, and he talks about “getting beneath the surface” to really understand customer pain points and to gain insights which lead to better ideas.

In the intralogistics industry there has been a tendency to limit innovative thinking to inside the warehouse or distribution centre, in other words “inside the box”. This has led to focus on the technology, equipment and software driving ever-improving efficiencies and return on investment.

External forces are causing this to change however. Even in the food and beverage area consumer buying habits move rapidly towards ever-higher levels of convenience through purchasing either online or in smaller stores inside cities.

These changes put pressure on the entire supply chain and intralogistics providers must embrace this change by thinking outside the warehouse and DC, or we could say “outside the box”, to ensure they play their part in providing efficient, flexible and sustainable supply chain solutions for the future.

Michael Hatrick, Innovation Manager, Buchs/Aargau (Switzerland)


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