There is a common misconception that innovation involves people sitting around thinking about things until something groundbreaking comes to mind. That abstract notion of what it means to be innovative and to bring an innovative thought to reality has next to nothing in common with the truth. The easiest way to prove this is to examine a few job descriptions for innovation leaders/managers/contributors. Yes, you can actually get a job in innovation. That is because the true form of innovation is hard work. It is not as esoteric nor conceptual as most would believe. It is a discipline that is much more similar to science than art.
Checking the job descriptions for innovative leaders and contributors, we can identify several themes. These positions all require a mix of all or most of the following:
Experience in designing and applying a structured methodology to conducting tests/experimentation
A disciplined approach to evaluating problem statements and solutions
Experience in developing strategy statements and recommendations
Prior involvement with feasibility studies and the development of business cases
Ability to produce results individually and as a part of a dynamic cross-functional team
Ability to creatively apply technology to solve problems
Mature project management skills
Experience in gathering and analyzing consumer insights
Experience in gathering data and translating it into relevant implications and strategy
There is very little magic in the list above. Judging from the requirements for working in the field of innovation, innovation largely consists of establishing and managing a scientific, measurable method of testing and evaluating a possible solution for feasibility and effectiveness against the strategic goals of an organization. In other words, innovation is hard work.
This means that organizations who are typically thought of as ‘innovative’ are not beating their competition with some type of complex creative thought that is innate and gifted to a select few employees of that organization. These organizations are not winning because they have managed to secure more high-level creative type employees than their competitors. They are not lucky, nor have they discovered the secret to harnessing the portions of the brain that most of us cannot. They are quite simply working harder than everyone else, and they are doing it consistently.