In addition to teaching innovation at Kellogg School ofat Northwestern University, Andrew Razeghi works as an advisor to Fortune 500 companies on corporate creativity and innovation. A few of his clients include GE, Intel, PepsiCo, and The New York Times. He’s the author of The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones.
EL: What is the importance and the role of innovation in today’s global economic environment?
Razeghi: The only sustainable source of competitive advantage is innovation. It’s that simple. And that hard.
EL: What surprises have you encountered when working with innovative teams?
Razeghi: I continue to be amazed at the capacity of human creativity when confronted with great challenges. It’s really remarkable.
I also continue to be amazed at the fear produced by bold new ideas. At times, the promise of a new idea can be greater than the problem that it seeks to solve. Those that understand this simple truth—that innovation is full of both hope and fear—and have gained the skills to identify, manage, and balance these opposing forces, win.
EL: What are some of the obstacles that prevent teams from coming up with more innovative ideas?
Razeghi: The status quo is too comfortable. If there is no reason to change (real or perceived), people won’t change. So as a leader, you must either show them the future or set the platform on fire. Many industries and companies have gone the way of the buggy whip for this simple reason.
The second obstacle is the culture doesn’t support failure. If you want to know the real reason for Detroit’s failure to innovate, it’s not that they can’t see the future. It’s that the culture of U.S. car-making does not reward innovation. It rewards history.
Third, those who have the ideas are not necessarily those who have the power to introduce the ideas. Individuals may be creative, but innovation involves sociology. An organization’s structure, politics, budgeting, culture, category,, values, beliefs, all affect its relative success with innovation.
EL: When teams are working on a problem or developing a product, and they hit a barrier, what do you recommend?
Razeghi: First off, know that it is inevitable. All great teams hit walls. Use the barrier to get creative. Oftentimes, the wall is just what was required to get to the next level.
Also, when you hit a wall and feel stuck, the odds are that you are driving only one vehicle.
Successful new products (and those that introduce them) send off a portfolio of ideas at the same time. If one doesn’t work, the other one might. Don’t bet on a silver bullet.
EL: Any other thoughts to share about innovation?
Razeghi: Innovation is only as valuable as people’s willingness to pay for it.
Don’t be distracted by the promise of a new idea. Be distracted by the promise of solving problems, creating new wealth and changing the world.
Innovation is simply a means to an end. It is the vehicle to greatness.