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Aim for improvement, not innovation

Aim for improvement, not innovation

Leaders and politicians are constantly touting the need for more innovation.  But is more innovation really what we need?

Innovation moves us forward – as individuals, groups, businesses, and perhaps as a nation and civilization. At the same time – innovation is not mundane. Innovation is or leads to change. Major innovations such as the steam engine and the mobile phone, and small innovations like coffee capsules and the microwave, change the way we live and work.

Innovation rarely come as a bolt from the sky – or like Isaac Newton’s famous apple. While no one has the recipe for the perfect way to incubate fresh ideas, there are some “regular ingredients”: expertise, interest, and access to resources. However, it is not possible to create innovation on command, and simply having the “ingredients” does not mean an innovation will developed anymore than collecting the wood, nails, and concrete will result in a house.

Lastly, innovation is scary.  To be an innovator implies an ambition that is foreign and intimidating for many.  Therefore, focusing heavily on innovation will result in the opposite.  The concept becomes water down and utterly meaningless.

And when politicians, business leaders, and journalists equate “innovation” with “entrepreneurship”, the result is confusion.  While at least 1 million Norwegians dream of starting up a business of their own, that hardly means there are 1 million Norwegian innovators.  Rather, it means that people may be happy with their job, boss, or salary, or wish to realize a dream – in short, to improve things for themselves.  While of course the personal initiative and willingness to strike out on one’s own demands respect, innovation is a completely different ball game, and only occurs in exceptional cases.  The bar is simply too high for everyone who makes a business to become an innovator.

Instead, let’s call a spade a spade, and focus on improvement.  Electricians, plumbers and other craftsman who start up businesses are contributing to improvement through increased competition, and maybe by working smarter.  Engineers who find alternative paths to their goal, are making improvements.  The improvements may be innovative, but not because of the calls for more money for more innovation.

Improvement is a mindset that presupposes innovation, but still requires a certain willingness to take risks and an openness to change.  That openness is a critical catalyst for both small and large innovations.

Therefore, focus on improvement. Improvement is a ‘mindset’ that presupposes innovation; a certain willingness to take risks and an openness to change. This openness is an important catalyst for both small and large innovations. Increased openness may be motivated by the aim create new research, challenge established truths, or think differently – and these are often triggers for innovation.

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We need more innovation, but we should start with a baseline of improvement.  Because it is exceptions that prove the rule: lower the barriers of entry for innovation, and get guaranteed results.  Improvement is always good, and the attitude behind it is the right one.


This article was originally posted on Helge Skrivervik’s blog myMAYDAYN (Norwegian).

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