I is for Innovation: Everyone's saying it but who's actually doing it

Turning truly innovative ideas into products or services requires commitment. In the next extract from his book The Social Entrepreneur's A to Z, Liam Black focusses on failing fast and ruthless execution of creativity and new ideas.


I is for Innovation

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” George Patton, US army general


Innovation is these days a fairly meaningless word. It’s like sex and teenage boys. They all talk about it but few are doing it. (Or was that just my generation?) In London you could spend every day going to a ‘workshop’ run by an innovation foundation and never actually start anything.

Creativity and new ideas are crucial but they’re nothing without the resources and culture that enable ruthless execution. Never forget an idea only becomes an innovation when someone buys it. Maybe this chapter should have been ‘I is for Incredibly focused on getting shit done’ because without such focus ‘innovation’ is merely creative masturbation. 

Google’s Law of Failure states that eight out of ten innovations will fail – even when brilliantly executed. So the question is not “How do I avoid failure?” but “How do I fail quickly and move on with as little damage done as possible?”

I really like the ‘pretotyping’ approach to innovation – championed by Google guru Alberto Savoia – which attempts to verify the market appeal of a product or service at the lowest possible price and in the least amount of time. It is as appropriate for the hungriest, cash strapped social enterprise start-up as it is for the deep pocketed multinational.

Alberto’s manifesto is worth pinning on your wall: Innovators beat ideas, pretotypes beat productypes, building beats talking, simplicity beats features, now beats later, commitment beats committees, data beats opinions.

“Now beats later, commitment beats committees, data beats opinions”

So, test your ideas ideas quickly and inexpensively with simplified versions of your product to validate the premise: that, “If we build it, they will use it.” How I wish I had done this with the Revive retail concept I mentioned earlier. I built it and they bloody well did not come!
Get over any sense that you can create the finished article early on. You can’t. In the immortal words of Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.” 

And never underestimate the power of a commitment to relentless, incrementalist innovation. Sudden radical change is rare. Lasting change is more often wrought by multiple smaller acts of creativity and bravery underpinned by deep patience and resilience – sometimes grinding it out inch by hard won inch.

“It’s not that I’m so smart,” quipped Einstein. “It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”


The Social Entrepreneur's A-Z with foreword by Nobel Laureate Muhammed Yunus and illustrations by Spike Gerrell is available to order through Amazon here. You can read more details on the book itself here.


Tune in to the A-Z Podcasts!...

Asi Sharabi, the tech entrepreneur backed by Google and Dragons Den star Piers Linney, talks to Liam about product innovation and taking ideas to market. Listen here.