When we’re looking to solve new problems, it is often not about the what. It is about the Who. Who would be great to have on the team to solve this problem? Who thinks like this? Who knows this subject well and has tackled similar problems before? Who can make a great contribution here? Who is inspired by challenging problems? Who likes to take moonshots? These are the kinds of people you want to recruit to solve new problems. People who think differently from you. Innovators. Creatives. People who take chances and are not scared of failure. So much of good problem-solving is about the team. Start with the Who first, not the what, just like in marketing. They can be the difference between making a big contribution to solving difficult problems vs. stalling out.
Innovation and creation are all about connecting the dots. You’re connecting disparate things that other people might not see to connect. You’re making things happen. You’re bringing people together that might not otherwise work together to solve problems. You’re blending ideas and disciplines. You’re taking what’s old and making it new again. Or, you’re taking what’s old and blending it with the new. Reinvention.
Innovation isn’t just about creating new things. It is also about seeing things differently. It is about taking alternative approaches. It is about working on hard things and solving difficult problems with people who you might not think to have work on them. It is making disparate connections through others to come up with positive solutions.
Who you bring on board to help you matters. Their background matters. Their way of thinking matters. Their attitude matters. Their outlook matters. Their goals matter. Steve Jobs always wanted to make sure Apple only hired ‘A’ players because he knew that ‘A’ players only wanted to work with other ‘A’ players. They didn’t want anyone on the ‘B’ team. Jobs didn’t want any ‘Bozos’ screwing up the team. He understood team cohesion. Top talent only. Apple was redefining and reimagining the personal computer and revolutionizing the world. Of course, they only wanted ‘A’ players to do this with. They wanted ‘A’ players with differing perspectives and backgrounds that would come together to make a dent in the universe. “People who see things differently,” as the Apple ad said. They were innovating at their core, and they continue to do this today as a core company value.
Naturally, we can learn a lot about innovation and invention from Apple. They say if you aren’t cannibalizing yourself and your own products, someone else will, so it might as well be you. You’re always moving forward. You’re always thinking a few years ahead. You’re always keeping your company in line with your vision and where you want to steer it. Vision acts as the guiding beacon to company direction. The Mission keeps us all on the same page, marching in the same direction. The purpose unites us and our efforts. Great companies have all three aligned and make sure that everyone knows how their role aligns with these three company entities.
Innovation must be taught and practiced throughout the organization. It is not a one-and-done deal. It is continuous, a process, a way of thinking, a philosophy. You don’t arrive at innovation some day. You practice it day by day. Like anything else, you get better at it with practice and continuous learning and dedication. And like anything else, you’re probably not going to be very good at it at the start. But if you’re committed, if your company is committed, if your leadership is committed to it, you stand a good chance of integrating it into your culture. GE did it and they’ve got one of the oldest school cultures around.
Innovation practices can spawn new product ideas in different product categories you might not have thought to enter. For example Apple had never been involved in watch making and yet a few years ago, they entered the watch market. They applied best practices and what they thought the watch market most wanted in a smart watch. Note: they had no prior history at all in watch making. Yet they innovated, they iterated, they tried, tried and tried again and created a successful version 1 they were happy with. Of course, they’ve gone on to create successive versions of the watch, each one giving the user more features, benefits and longer battery life. All from a product category that they’ve never had previous success in, one they now dominate.
Apple has gone on to prove that innovation isn’t limited to the product category you’ve always been known for. You can expand outside your known comfort zone and innovate in other areas not known. You can apply your learnings and technologies to those other categories and perform iterative market tests, seeing what works and what doesn’t. You can build, measure and learn, and then repeat the process over and over.
You might be thinking, “Sure, but that’s Apple! They have everything: money, resources, talent, brains. I don’t have 10% of that!” Yes, but you can learn from them, from their practices, from their innovation, even from their mistakes. Look at your competitors. Who is successful? What can you learn from their marketing? What can you learn from studying their processes? What can you learn from their products and go-to-market strategy? What can you model that’s successful and apply it to your methods? As Tony Robbins says, “Success leaves clues.” There’s never anything wrong with modeling successful people and companies.
If you run into a problem that’s vexing and you can’t figure it out, turn to others to help you. Find a new Who. Who has already solved this problem? Who’s the expert in this domain? Who’s making it happen? What can I learn from them? Do they have a course? Can I hire them? Can I share in their expertise? This person will act as a big time short-cut in your figuring things out. They can cut your learning curve by 90%. All because they have the expertise and experience that you lack. Do not undermine this expertise. Apply it! There are shortcuts to innovation: talented people who have been there and already done it. Further, they think differently and they execute. They have a history of past success and knowledge in their domain. Leverage this to your benefit. Why do it alone if you don’t need to?