What Do Innovative Companies Look Like?


Rothko No. 14

The word “innovation” gets thrown around a lot and is often used to describe simply doing something different from the norm. Innovation may include “different” but different alone doesn’t define innovation.

So how do we recognize innovation when we see it? When you look at the Rothko painting on the left, does it scream innovation to you? More importantly, how do we create or encourage innovation? And what does a Rothko painting have to do with innovation? (More on that in a bit)

What Is Innovation: A Definition

As I was writing this post, I sat back to really think about what innovation means to me and to o2o as a company. I looked at big company examples like Apple & Google, smaller company examples like DropBox and Square, and came away with 5 things that are consistent in defining innovation.

  • Innovation begins with observation and unconstrained hypothesis (the idea).
  • Innovation removes barriers and disrupts the status quo.
  • Innovation is only recognizable through execution.
  • Innovation requires context.
  • Innovation creates value.

Innovation Begins With Observation And Unconstrained Hypothesis

The original idea may not always be the outcome, in reality it often isn’t, but innovation begins with an idea of how to change something or do it better. By definition, if you’re constraining your thinking to how you incrementally improve something or build upon what has been done without a differentiating value proposition you aren’t really innovating.

Innovation Removes Barriers And Disrupts The Status Quo

One of the hallmarks of innovation is that it is often a breakthrough or significant shift in how things work. Innovation changes the behavior of the people who adopt it and will often cause markets to shift (disruption). Innovation includes greater efficiency, scalability, simplicity, and so on.

Innovation Is Only Recognizable Through Execution

Ideas alone are not enough. There are “innovative ideas” but an idea without execution won’t disrupt a market.

Innovation Requires Context

Being too far ahead of the market does you no better than being too late. Having a great idea but executing in the wrong space or at the wrong time won’t get you very far.

Innovation Creates Value

Value is hard to define because it’s often dependent on context. Thinking of “how” you create value can help frame the specific value you are creating.

Innovation doesn’t stop at products, in fact, it often doesn’t start there either. Business models and processes are one of the areas most in need of innovation. Because business changes so quickly, it doesn’t take long before today’s innovative way of doing things is outdated. Businesses that will continue to innovate will do so by starting from within.

Now, about that Rothko painting

Mark Rothko didn’t constrain himself to the artistic norms of his time. While meeting with initially unfavorable reviews, Rothko continued down the path that eventually led to his signature style. In his own words:

I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous. The reason I paint them, however . . . is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command!

His style and later success led to the acceptance of simplicity in art, greatly disrupting what was conventionally thought of as “art.” He was unafraid to push forward in a new direction and in doing so opened up opportunity for other artists and brought a new sense of what art can mean to its viewers.

If art is innovative, how can your business to add value to the world ?

2 Responses to “What Do Innovative Companies Look Like?”

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