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Innovation: Individual Genius or Collective Evolution?

Posted By: SGK June 22, 2016

This blog post was contributed by John Lawrence, Client Solutions, SGK Europe.

Is innovation within organizations driven by the competence of individuals or generated as part of a wider discussion among a community?

READ: The Right Fit: 5 Tips to Help You Match the Right Agency with the Right Creative Job  

The term “Genius” is often used to describe innovators – individuals recognized as the drivers of change and ideas, but just as often supported or ‘fed’ by a huge network of collaborating groups who have been given the license to share both challenges and solutions.

Genius [adjective]: showing unusually great intelligence, skill or artistic ability It is my opinion that the description

Genius is misunderstood. I do not intend to play down the intellectual accomplishments of this group of people but more to highlight a skill within that description: they are exceptional listeners.

“A genius idea” is always something that fulfills a need. In order to fulfill a need, you must first and foremost clearly identify the need. But amongst so much noise, how do you hear the true need? The greatest innovators are the ones who have learned to listen. Their moment of solution or clarity is often called a “light bulb moment,” but reality suggests that the light bulb was initially turned on earlier by something that stimulated the idea – an experience. Innovators must have heightened listening skills in order to absorb that experience and identify a subsequent opportunity.

Innovation in business is most often associated with commercial advantage or efficiency, and rightly so or it wouldn’t make business sense. When innovation can get off track though is when suppliers look to solve business needs in isolation. Focusing on developing products or services just to create a wider portfolio instead of responding to a threat or client request may result in a futile exercise and failed innovation. If the fundamental requirement of a ‘genius idea’ is listening, then it holds that successful innovation cannot occur in a vacuum.

If innovative ideas seldom come from an isolated approach, then they are far more likely to succeed through mutual collaboration between a supplier and client. This collective pool of insight, resource, and skill creates a rich environment for ideas that can then be validated and implemented through a controlled and measured process. The significance of culture cannot be overstated. In order for a successful innovative collaboration to actually get off the ground and then succeed, it is a pre-requisite that both supplier and client have cultures that foster an environment of sharing and risk. In these environments, ideas will appear and in some cases disappear just as quickly, but there is a platform for the greatest ideas to prosper be championed.

For any Game of Thrones fans, you may remember a poignant moment in Series One of the show when King Robert Baratheon asks his Queen (Cersei Lannister) an apparently simple question: “Which is the bigger number, five or one?” (King Robert Baratheon, Game of Thrones). He then holds up a fist with his right hand and an open palm with his fingers extended on his left.

In the context of innovation, the answer is simple. A consolidated single driving force of many is far more powerful than the genius of one or disparate ideas that can only be taken so far. A true genius or innovator is someone or a group that can capture the collective power and insight of a wider group and harness that to drive an idea forward.

Understanding the context, culture, and characteristics of innovation is important because:

  • 93% of executives are looking to innovation to drive growth (PwC Survey of 1,757 Corporate Executives)
  • 49% of organizations have initiatives to grow via reducing costs, only 29% have initiatives to grow via new products or services (Board of Innovation)
  • 15 months is the time Slack, a team collaboration tool, needed to reach a $1B valuation

To innovate is no longer a question but a demand, which is why SGK has created a formal central global team, Client Solutions, to focus on innovation, foster it through the business, and collaborate with key client partners and subject matter experts to deliver meaningful new products and services to a wider audience.

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