The Innovation Metronome


    Like a good guitar player — innovation has rhythm.

    There is no achievement without hard work.

    There is no breakthrough innovation without hard work.

    Innovation happens when you practice with discipline, with rhythm.

    We sometimes get lucky with things and shortcuts present themselves. Even then, one has to be ready to recognise luck when it’s sitting in front of you — on its hind legs begging for a ham bone. Even recognising a breakthrough innovation opportunity takes the hard work of understanding the market, the context. Call that deep research.

    Usually innovation is a bit like the guitar lesson I had yesterday. I take a weekly lesson from a kind church lady. Donna is a great teacher, she swings, in the musical sense. I emphasize the kind aspect of her personality because I’m a problem student. I’ve had a six year affair with the guitar — it’s not gone well. Pure frustration in many ways. My fingers just don’t to go into those shapes. The complexity of reading music is another layer of my ineptness. And I have creeping arthritis in my hands. None the less I’ve been plugging away, week after week. Sometimes practicing a little, sometimes a decent amount. The weekly lesson keeps my hand in — and the callouses on my fingers smarting. The lessons help me structure my practice. Knowing I have to play for Donna, I try to prepare. I do this even though sometimes I despair of ever reaching a more proficient level.

    I’ve been trying to learn the old Carole King song, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. Don’t ask me why. It’s not a simple three chord rock tune. It’s got a bit more complexity in the melody– something fairly easy for someone who can really play — but not at all for me. Women cry when they hear that song. I cry trying to play it.

    Yesterday something magical happened in the flow of my lesson, I had a breakthrough. The penny dropped and I was, suddenly, playing that Carole King song at a new level. It was a joy to realise that a lot of work has finally paid off. I have new hope in my head and my heart. It’s a great feeling. Now I really want to play even more.

    Corporate Innovation is no different. The breakthrough will happen if you keep plugging, and I mean relentlessly. Four cycles a year at the front end is nearly the minimum. You need a metronome to remind you to keep playing, keep practicing. Fighting through the mental fatigue and frustration is the dues you have to pay to get there. It doesn’t happen in a day. Don’t think a one day idea generation session is going to get you there. You have to think about it everyday, and the team has to think about it everyday. Working away at the challenge of innovation needs to have a metronome. A rhythm. If you keep after it, everyday, alone and together, together and alone — tick, tick, tick — eventually a breakthrough will present itself.

    If you are an innovation director, leader, or manager you’d do yourself a favor to buy a metronome, put it on your desk and turn it on at least once a day. Remind yourself to get into the flow of the practice. Then remind your team. Then get after it.


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