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  • Purnima Thakre

Why a Few Succeed at Innovation When Many Fail

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

Every so often we have been asked questions like how to survive crises or how to adapt when circumstances change so quickly.

The answer is simple. You learn to innovate, continuously and consistently. You may be great at tech innovation, but if you don’t consistently learn to match your tech innovations to changing market needs, you cannot succeed continuously, especially not during crises.

To survive changing and adverse circumstances you need a well developed muscle of business innovation.

Become a Serial Innovator

Like cooking, business innovation is a test-driven blend of art and science. It takes trial and error, testing multiple times at a small scale, learning from failure then doing it on a large scale. It’s easy to learn but difficult to master, and it’s even more difficult to make money from it. 

Many people think they can innovate, but few are real chefs. Those are the serial innovators. Over the past sixteen years we at refine+focus have learned what distinguishes their success from the failure of others.

We’ve come up with a checklist of the five key ingredients you need in your innovation kitchen, so you know exactly what it takes to become a serial innovator.

Five Key Innovation Ingredients

  1. A culture of forgiveness, not fear. Innovation involves failure. It’s a key part of the test-and-learn model. When people embrace the potential for failure, they feel unafraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Your team needs to feel empowered to make decisions, take actions, and come up with new ideas—which is why an environment of mutual trust and respect is so important.

  2. No silos, whether industrial or internal. Hierarchy should only exist on paper or in principle not in ego and attitude, especially not in ideation. Successful teams are cross-functional, they support each other, they learn from each other. They never say “it’s not my job.” Same attitude has an even bigger impact in companies that work without industrial silos. They adopt models from other industries. If others in your industry aren’t learning from other industries, this is the biggest advantage you can have over your competition.

  3. An environment of curiosity and learning. Building an innovation muscle takes consistent exposure to new and different ways of thinking. Create space for continuous learning in your organization by striving for efficient people and time management, so employees have the time and energy to dedicate to learning. In short, everyone doesn’t have to be present in all meetings, and every tiny decision shouldn’t need big meetings.

  4. Teams where everyone is an outsider in some way. Diverse teams are the most innovative. You cannot solve a problem the same way and expect new results. The best teams bring a multiplicity of perspectives together to unlock creativity and generate new ideas. There’s a range in race, age, gender, skills, background, and industry experiences. Don’t rely on surface-level definitions of diversity to guide your efforts; strive for authenticity and a genuine appreciation for differences.

  5. Consistent Investment. It’s not enough to invest in innovation in the short-term. Aim for smaller, long-term, consistent investments over huge one-time investments. Just because one project failed one time, doesn’t mean you should cut its funding. Consider review-learn-improve instead. Innovation requires investment even through crises, when it seems unnecessary or when the project didn’t succeed. The serial innovator works through failure, is comfortable with ambiguity, and stays adaptable under all circumstances.

Get Started

Do you have all the ingredients you need to become a successful serial innovator? Missing an ingredient? We are happy to talk to you and help you find that ingredient. Send us an email at—we’d love to chat.

More on Serial Innovation

Check out our latest Lunchtime Live session to hear from Zach and Purnima on how to build a strong innovation muscle.

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