From sliced bread to walking on the moon, the world’s most remarkable achievements began with an idea. And even though ideas are the foundation for every great innovation, they’re often overlooked and ignored. But why?
Even Steve Jobs, the late, great, idea man behind Apple’s revolutionary products, is attributed with a quote that questions the importance of ideas. In an interview with Robert Cringely, Jobs said that one of the factors that hurt Apple after he left was John Scully’s belief that a great idea is 90% of the work. Taken into certain contexts, it sounds as if Jobs doesn’t believe that ideas have any importance at all on innovations and revolution.
But to assume that would make a … donkey … out of you and me.
What Jobs was saying was that an idea alone isn’t enough to breed innovation. It takes elbow grease and prolonged persistence and creativity to push that idea into some form of reality. But all that work is pointless if not for the idea to begin with.
Believing ideas have little to do with innovation is like saying breathing has nothing to do with talking. Without your breath, there are no words. Without ideas, there is no innovation.
Great ideas never have one owner. Walk into any successful brainstorming session and you’ll think you walked into an Italian family’s Sunday afternoon feast. Loud voices, laughter and a sprinkle of intensity pepper the air and bounce off the walls. Whiteboards are littered with chicken scratch and diagrams. Bad ideas are as welcomed as great ideas. In this type of brainstorming session, no one takes ownership of the words coming out of their mouth. Everyone contributes to the ether; everyone’s focused on the overall goal.
This is the mecca of good ideas.
Ideas are bigger than just one person. The moment an individual tries to take ownership of an idea, that idea becomes as valuable as the gum found on the bottom of your shoe. But when a group understands and accepts that every word, grunt, and sigh contributed to that one genius concept, well, now that idea is worth more than you can ever imagine. In fact, the ideation process can become one of your greatest assets in cultivating the type of workplace environment where teamwork and collaboration are respected.
Jobs was onto something when he criticized the notion that ideas are 90% of the work. Of course they’re not. Just because you breathe doesn’t mean you’re born talking. It takes months (or years) of practice, study, and persistence to say your first word. It takes even more time to structure your first sentence. And it takes a number of years before you’re able to stand in front of a crowd of slightly bored parents as you recite the Gettysburg Address while dressed in a stovepipe hat made of construction paper and a beard made from cotton balls.
The point is – you aren’t born as an Abe Lincoln impersonator. It took work to get there. Your organization isn’t born with great innovations. It’ll take hard work to achieve your goals.
Success is dependent on two factors:
Without one, the other can’t survive, which is why it’s up to organizations to ensure they put as much emphasis on the ideation process as they do with other areas.
One of the goals of any organization is to breed a workplace culture that encourages and inspires innovative thinking, while simultaneously providing the type of support and personnel needed to turn thought into action. Think of it like gears working in tandem. If one gear stutters, the entire machine stutters.
Rather than view ideas or action as two separate entities, view them as integrated puzzle pieces contributing to the big picture. Each part of the innovative process relies on its brethren in order to keep breathing. To minimize the importance of your ideas is to weaken the chain of innovation at its very core. No one link within your creative chain is more important than the other. From idea to production, it all matters.
We may all have different sounding voices. We may all say different things. But all of our words are based on one fact: we breathe. Breath is the foundation of human communication in the same manner that ideas are the foundation of innovation. Organizations that belittle the importance of ideas are suffocating their potential of creating an innovation that will revolutionize their market … and even the world.