How to Animate Vigorous and Benevolent Innovations

Entrepreneurs must aspire to be good doctors, not by chance, but by conscious choices. Here is a succinct method on how to do exactly that (published on Startup Odense).

Among young and eager entrepreneurs, it is possible to find two quite common, but unfortunate practices, namely rash generalization and impatient reductionism. Allow me to unfold this, partly self-sarcastic claim. The often banal conceptualization of ‘innovation’ champions as an example. Taking innovation for granted translates into a great loss of opportunity for numerous startups, who neither have the stability provided by owning a strong brand equity, nor the ability to rely on a well-established organizational capacity to strengthen their innovation processes.

It is imperative to remember, that innovation is foremost a mode of thinking and a particular kind of attitude. It’s not a tool one can just “apply” and it’s not “just” a synonym for being creative.

While innovation breathes life into ideas, some animated ideas – much like Doctor Frankenstein’s terrible fate – might later turn into unfortunate monstrosities. As it happened in the case of the good doctor, innovation often requires the piecing together of several different “body” parts – the goal is after all, a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Now, the fundamental principle that informs the process and ensures a guarded and vigorous innovation is the fundamental ideology behind the project – it informs both past, present, and future; how a business examines and interrogates its past behavior, prioritizes tasks in daily activities, and formulates long term strategies. Without a clear cut ideology to give innovation its critical sustenance, uncertainty is sure to follow, with the risk of provoking angry consumer mobs. Doctors ascribe to a clear morality through the Hippocratic oath for a number of very good reasons, holding pitchforks and horrors at safe distance through principles that protect our humanity. Creating something, anything, is a privilege, and it requires a similar foundation.

While ideology as a concept can be quite enigmatic, principal elements can be identified. There is an obvious kinship to a company’s vision, albeit with some significant differences. Meanwhile, a definition of ideology does not come easy, because of its contextuality, complexity, changing nature, and its many different modes of operation. Ideology is inherently difficult to compose or encapsulate in few words. I will therefore introduce a succinct method, specifically designed to direct the politics of innovation in startups and entrepreneurial environments.

Proceeding to design what I will name an innovation imaginary, starts with identifying the overarching idea and belief. Entrepreneurs should think big and mobilize their deepest ambitions into a single forceful form – for instance “shared consumer-to-consumer transport service” or “micro-sized commercial drone toolkits for use in school education”.

Next, the formulation of more specific goals provides a necessary guidance, supporting the process of identifying key tasks and how to prioritize them. Using the examples above, a key task could be “to develop consumer choice sovereignty” and “to support education of STEM disciplines in young school children”.

Lastly, the most appropriate ways to achieve the core idea and the designated goals need to be selected to make sure that the company both knows how it can achieve its aspirations, as well as the moral incentives that govern those means. Again, in the examples we could have “free application services available on Android and IOS devices” and “supporting local school communities by including parents, teachers, and students in design considerations”.

Constituents of an Innovation Imaginary:

  • Idea / belief (what)
  • Specific goals (why)
  • Appropriate methods (how)

If we pinpoint the core of every constituent, it becomes easier to see the foundational elements of the imaginary: ‘shared’, ‘choice sovereignty’, ‘free services’; and ‘education’, ‘support’, and ‘including’. Through careful considerations, we have thus described two ideas for innovations, but also from which ideology they will be conceived.

Disruptive innovation, famously coined by Clayton M. Christensen, brings attention to a process where simple innovations at the bottom of a market, in time comes to move up market and later displace established competitors, consequently disrupting existing market dynamics. At the moment, disruption is on everyone’s lips, calling forth rash and impatient (and bloated) expectations on what can be achieved and how. Whether it’s disruption, radical, or incremental innovation, startups are faced with great risks without an imaginary to anchor their aspirations.

Entrepreneurs must prepare their operation table with sufficient rigor, or face the potential consequences of unhealthy, dangerous, and potentially destructive animations. Entrepreneurs must aspire to be good doctors, not by chance, but by conscious choices.