Many successful companies eventually fail, a phenomenon often attributed to the “straight line assumption” mindset. Leaders with this mindset believe their strategic plans will always work and their products will remain in demand. This approach assumes a predictable, unchanging business landscape. However, this complacency overlooks the dynamic nature of markets and consumer preferences.
At a recent Nobel Prize winners’ roundtable, a thought-provoking question was posed: “Where do great ideas come from?”
From the responses, one perspective stood out: Great ideas often emerge in environments where seemingly ‘stupid’ ideas can be freely expressed without fear of judgment.
Many companies aspire to cultivate innovation within their teams. However, innovation is not a skill that can be directly taught; it’s a product of the right environment— one that encourages experimentation and embraces failures.
There can be no innovation without experiments. As such, leaders need to not just encourage innovation but drive it in several areas: Product innovation, where new products are developed; process innovation, where the product is left as is but innovation is built around how it gets to the customer.
Next is service innovation, where emphasis is placed on the customer experience and relationships built first between the company and its employees and secondly between the company and the customers. Finally companies can look at innovative partners. The importance of this innovative mindset is illustrated in the history of scientific and technological advancements. Thomas Edison’s journey to inventing the light bulb involved thousands of failed experiments. Persistent experimentation is a cornerstone of innovation.
Leaders who view success as a final destination, rather than a milestone, fall into the trap of “fixed destination thinking,” which limits innovation and leads to straight line assumptions, where the focus shifts to maintaining current success rather than seeking new opportunities.
In summary, the path to groundbreaking innovation is seldom paved with conventional wisdom. It often requires a willingness to explore ideas that may seem absurd or impractical. This mindset, when nurtured in an environment that values experimentation and learning from failures, can lead to remarkable discoveries.
Great ideas often sprout from the seeds of what might initially appear to be ‘stupid’ thoughts.
A relevant African example is that of Ugandan engineer Brian Gitta. Gitta, despite not having a medical background, invented a revolutionary, painless, and bloodless malaria testing method called Matibabu. His innovation came from a place of personal experience and the desire to address a widespread issue in a novel way.
Innovation is the product of minds that have refused to be prisoners of yesterday’s success. The pull power of what can be and must be exponentially greater than the holding power of what has been.
Wale Akinyemi is the founder of the Street University. Email [email protected].