Being successful at innovation is a skill. One that takes time, patience, strategic intelligence and amongst other things, funding. Many organisations succeed only after they have experienced embarrassing failures and learnt some tough lessons in the process. How do others succeed with their innovation efforts? What is the secret? In this article we use the inspiring philosophy of Steve Jobs as stimulus and ask innovation managers about their “secret sauce for innovation success”. Learning from others reduce risk because resurrecting the organisational “innovation corpse” is not an action anyone should be tasked with.

Talking about “top innovation secrets” might be a bit arrogant. It is not that simple. Innovation needs to be considered in different environments and holistic ecosystems. It involves the entire organisation and a myriad of nuances.

Innovation is a popular topic of discussion and many organisations think of themselves as innovative or progressive. The taste of the pudding is still in the eating. Planning is one thing, delivering consistent results, however, is another.

Similar to other management practises, innovation management is an ever evolving discipline.

Similar to other management practises, innovation management is an ever evolving discipline. What we believed worked yesterday, might not be effective tomorrow. This rings true on the topic of strategic planning for innovation, business model innovation, appropriate reward mechanisms, innovation systems and implementation, to name but a few.

While we are putting in place the processes, structures and strategic policies to guide innovation outcomes, do we ponder the power of thinking big, reaching out or fulfilling a known or even unknown market need? Do we involve our own innovation ecosystem, consider open or semi-open innovation models or think about collaborating with SMEs?

Innovation is about strategizing, guiding and empowerment of staff but is also about co-creation, being different in your approach and about sustaining momentum.

Steve’s secret sauce for innovation success

Like Frank Sinatra, everyone has “their way” of doing things and so does world entrepreneurial legend Steve Jobs. Something that Carmine Gallo, in a new book entitled: The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, outlines as “insanely different principles for breakthrough success.” When these principles are considered one cannot help but notice words like “passion, magic, dreams, simplicity, decisiveness and great customer experience”.

Steve’s 8 principles are almost universal truths. Use it as background information and think about “your way” of addressing innovation going forward.

Steve’s innovation principles:

  1. Do what you love, innovation does not happen in the absence of passion. Passion occupies the mind and soul. It provides the fuel for persistence and perseverance.
  2. Put a dent in the universe – think differently about your vision and attract like-minded people to create magic for your organisation.
  3. Kick start your brain and stretch it to its “outer limits” – be creative. The same old thinking about the same old problems is not going to gear your organisation towards future success. The world we will work in ten years from now probably will sound like a fiction movie today. Silo mentalities and group think will not get you there. Collaborate and find the outer limits!
  4. Sell dreams, not products. Help people fulfil their dreams by providing products, services and experiences that make dreams come true.
  5. Say no to a 1000 things. According to Steve the answer lies in simplicity. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. This in my opinion can also refer to saying no to pet projects, trying to be everything to everybody and losing focus. Know what you want to achieve and how you want to get there. You cannot run a marathon without knowing the ultimate destination.
  6. Create insanely great experiences, linking back to point four made above.
  7. Master the message. In other words, be a corporate storyteller. If you cannot get people excited about your idea – the idea does not matter
  8. See yourself (and your organisation) as the brand. How staff acts reflects upon the brand. Most importantly, how you think as an organisation and entrepreneur will have the greatest impact on the creation of new ideas that will grow your business and improve the lives of your customers.

The secret sauce of innovation success for organisations

The “Steve-themes” provide valuable pointers that every innovation-hungry entrepreneur or business person can apply, whether you are a Steve admirer or not. So, from inspirational individual to the organisational context. What do other organisations put in place or focus on, to enable innovation success? What do organisations consider “top innovation secrets”?

When I had the opportunity to speak at a recent innovation conference, I posed the exact question to the audience and this was their response:

  1. Paint a clear picture – know what you want and set clear goals to get there. Innovation needs a purpose.
  2. Create real value – ensure that your efforts address a real need.

Allow for creativity, make it happen and expect it from people.

  1. Create an enabling environment. No-one can go at it alone. Allow for creativity, make it happen and expect it from people.
  2. Collaborate, lobby, empower, create the right structures and fund winning initiatives.
  3. Identify the good ideas – Use a powerful, clear and effective process to filter ideas and identify the good ones for implementation.
  4. Involve people, encourage teamwork and recognise efforts.
  5. Establish ownership. Innovation needs to be someone’s responsibility for it to be effectively managed and sustained.

These points do not represent a complete list, many more can be added. It is interesting though to note overlaps in the conference delegates’ responses and the themes of Steve Jobs. Whether we talk innovation or entrepreneurship, every idea starts somewhere. The power of passion, simplicity and “insanely great experiences” for customers cannot be underestimated.

Start somewhere, today

The reality is, innovation is not a nice to have activity. It is crucial. What you sow is what you reap. Of course innovation and entrepreneurial success will not be possible without leadership and determination. Determination should perhaps be written in capital letters. It is going to get tough. Changing a business model and diverging from the way we have always done it is often easier said than done.

The reality is, innovation is not a nice to have activity. It is crucial. What you sow is what you reap.

It requires hard work and persistence. It requires trust and transparency and a non-negotiable will to make it happen. It demands action. Yes, action and learning. We often talk about what should be done, deliberate for months on how to do it and then scuffle to find the right person or team to make it happen. Not everything will be perfect from the beginning – but start somewhere. Learn by doing.

Now, why not make your own list and start with something like this:

The secret to our innovation success:

  1. Action.

By Henra Mayer

About the Author

Henra Mayer is the CEO of Innocentrix (Pty) Ltd, a South African based innovation management company. Her expertise lies in the management and measurement of innovation results in the organisational context. Her aim is to assist clients to bring innovation to life by aligning strategic imperatives to drive results and building successful innovation eco-systems that showcase the impact of innovation.
She has an innovation related MBA degree and is often asked to contribute articles to business publications on the topic. She regularly appears as guest speaker for radio stations, conferences and innovation competitions.

Photo: A thermometer measuring your innovation level from