This short video by IMD Professor of Marketing, Sutart Read is a good reminder that most innovations occured unexpectedly, as a surprise to some extent, while people were actually trying to find something else. Examples of that abound in history and Professor Read shows several of them.
There is a beautiful English word to describe that, it is “serendipity”. Interestingly enough, this word has no equivalent in most foreign languages , French included. Serendipity is this whole notion that innovation cannot be ordered and commanded, it has its own ways and will very often appear where you expect it less…
As a result, we shall expect that very narrowly focused innovation programs will not yield in most cases the expected returns because people are just too focused on a single goal. Reversely, you can embrace serendipity in the Google way by giving freedom to all employees to spend 20% of their time on whatever project they are interested in.
Gardeners and farmers got it a long time ago: there are things that can’t be forced, no matter how much fertilizer or whatever you put in the ground, it will take what it takes for the plant or the corn to germinate and grow. Innovation is not different from agriculture: it can only emerge with care and time.
In our fast-paced world where business results must be immediate and focus is the key, maybe another way to innovation will be to relearn patience and curiosity?