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Ideas Don’t Equal Innovation

Ideas Don't Equal Innovation
I had a long conversation yesterday with a friend discussing creativity, ideas, innovation, branding and the like. As a result of our conversation, I decided to dust-off an old post, give it a few updates, and pass along my thoughts, which can be best summarized as “Ideas Don’t Equal Innovation.” It is my hope to help dispel the myth that ideas are inherently good things. Let me state right from the outset that I place little value on ideas. Not only do raw ideas have little intrinsic value, but they are often very costly. While I stipulate to the fact that ideas can sometimes lead to great things, I also submit that it is more frequently the case that ideas lead to disappointment, and even outright disaster. Those of you familiar with my work are probably wondering if it is really me authoring this text…if you’re baffled at how a champion of innovation can simultaneously be an idea-basher, I urge you to read on, and I promise the congruity will become apparent.

I want to start by actually defining what an idea is, and is not. Ideas do not constitute a philosophy, principle, or strategy. An idea is not synonymous with a competitive advantage, an idea is not necessarily a sign of creativity, an idea does not constitute innovation, and as much as some people wish it was so, an idea is certainly not a business. To the chagrin of many reading this post, ideas in and of themselves are nothing more than unrefined, random thoughts. Ideas on their own accord are really quite useless. The truth can often times be harsh and difficult to hear, but it is nonetheless the truth.

Ideas are a dime a dozen…take a moment and reflect on all the ideas you’ve spawned over the years, or the many ideas that have been birthed by your friends, family, and professional associates and you’ll quickly see that most of them never got lift-off. The problem is that most ideas never get implemented, and moreover even the best ideas when improperly implemented can cause great harm. You see, while creativity is a clearly a valuable asset, unbridled creativity where random, disparate ideas abound outside of a sound decisioning and execution framework will create distraction and chaos much more often than they will lead to innovation. The difference between an idea and innovation is execution – don’t be the “idea” person, be the innovator.

In fact, it is most often the organizations that demonstrate a “heard mentality” when rushing to adopt the latest ideas that are the farthest thing away from being innovative. The net result of being a late stage trend follower is that you will likely experience little more than yet another in a long line of great adventures that ended in frustration due to the time wasted and the investment squandered.  The reality is that many businesses are quick to recognize great ideas, but they often have no plan for how to successfully integrate them into their business model.

My advice to you is not to let your business get caught up in embracing random ideas – at least not without some initial analysis being conducted to determine the likelihood of success. Failed initiatives are costly at several levels. Aside from being costly, a flawed execution can cast doubt on management credibility, have a negative impact on morale, taint the brand, adversely affect external relationships, and cause a variety of other problems for your business.

Every sound business initiative begins with a solid strategic plan. However while most anyone can cobble together a high level strategic plan, very few can author a strategy that can be successfully implemented. In order for your enterprise to turn an idea into a monetizing and/or value creating event you should develop a strategic plan that attempts to measure the idea against the following 15 elements:

1. Framework: The idea should be generated within a solid framework for decisioning. It should be developed as a solution to a problem or to exploit an opportunity. The idea should be in alignment with the overall vision and mission of the enterprise.

2. Advantage: If the idea doesn’t provide a unique competitive advantage it should at least bring you closer to an even playing field. That said, the best initiatives don’t level the field, they tilt the field in your favor.

3. Alignment: Any new idea should preferably add value to existing initiatives, and if not, it should show a significant enough return on investment to justify the dilutive effect of not keeping the main thing the main thing.

4. Assess: Put the idea through a risk/reward and cost/benefit analysis.

5. Simple: Whether the new idea is intended for your organization, vendors, suppliers, partners or customers it must easy to use. Usability drives adoptability, and therefore it pays to keep things simple.

6. Validate: Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean it is, and just because you can doesn’t mean you should. You should endeavor to validate proof of concept based upon detailed, credible research.

7. Contingency: Nothing is without risk, and when you think something is without risk, that is when you’re most likely to end-up in trouble. All initiatives surrounding new ideas should include detailed risk management provisions.

8. Realistic: Adopting a new idea should be based upon solid business logic that drives corresponding financial engineering and modeling.  New projects alway take longer and cost more than originally planned.  Be careful of high level, pie-in-the-sky projections.

9. Accountability: Any new ideas should contain accountability provisions. Every task should be assigned and managed according to a plan, and all of this should occur in the light of day.

10. Measurable: Any new ideas being adopted must lead to measurable objectives. Deliverables, benchmarks, deadlines, and success metrics must be incorporated into the plan.

11. Timing: It must be detailed and deliverable on a schedule. The initiative should have a beginning, middle and end.

12. Integrated: Ideas need to be incorporated into strategic initiatives and not constitute disparate systems. They should be incorporated into integrated solutions that eliminate redundancies, and build in tactical leverage points.

13. Evolving: Ideas should contain a road-map for versioning and evolution that is in alignment with other strategic initiatives and the overall corporate mission. No road map signals an incomplete idea and will also likely equal quick obsolescence.

14. Actionable: A successful idea cannot remain in a strategic planning state. It must be actionable through tactical implementation.

15. Champion: Senior leadership must champion any new idea being adopted. If someone at the C-suite level is against the new idea, it will likely die on the cutting-room floor.

The bottom line is that new ideas are beautiful things when they become solutions or lead to opportunities. Properly implemented, capitalizing on process driven creativity can keep business from stagnating and cause growth and evolution. Just follow the 15 rules above and avoid being the misguided change agent for solely for the sake of change. Thoughts?

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    Dan Rockwell

    February 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm


    I found you on twitter and thought I'd stop in. We sure don't have to wonder how you feel about things.

    Your work is specific and actionable.

    Thanks, Like the terminator, "I'll be back."


    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell


      March 1, 2010 at 7:45 pm

      Hi Dan –

      Thanks for stopping in, and I appreciate the kind words. I look forward to hearing more from you.

      Best wishes,

    Bob MacNeal

    February 21, 2010 at 2:20 pm


    Thanks for this helpful post.

    As one who has failed to lead ideas and has failed to spark movements around ideas, it seems the bridge between an idea and an innovative idea is a viral movement. The agents of a movement are the idea leader and the essential first followers who teach others. The idea leader and first followers have a symbiotic relationship. One's the flint and the other's the spark.

    Without a viral movement, ideas go extinct before innovation. Making an idea viable involves understanding the mechanics of spreading an idea.



      March 1, 2010 at 7:46 pm

      Hi Bob:

      Thanks for your comments. I found your articulation of the concept that a lack of leadership will cause ideas to become extinct before they can be drivers of innovation to be very astute. Best wishes Bob…

    Steve Eidson

    February 23, 2010 at 3:52 pm


    While I generally agree with your thesis that ideas need to be thoroughly analyzed, I would disagree that that is the problem with businesses today. In fact, I would argue that too few ideas are put through the analysis process, and we are now suffering from vision paralysis. In other words, anything that is beyond the vision of the business is never considered or even explored to the first level of analysis. This is great way to stifle innovation without exploring extensions to existing product lines.

    I would also suggest that determining the worth of an idea is not a linearly process with several points of analysis that reach an immediate conclusion. There are iterative steps that we all go through to validate the worth of an idea with ever-increasing detail in each iteration until the company can confirm that an idea should be embraced.

    I do agree with your basic premise though. I have seen and worked with several entrepreneurs and CEOs that jump on the fashion band wagon or immediately implement any idea that pops into their head with almost no analysis. This is acting before thinking, which I have never seen work.



      March 1, 2010 at 7:46 pm

      Hi Steve:

      Thanks for your comments. I can really understand your concern about process stifling innovation. However letting ideas run rampant within any organization is chaotic at best, and disastrous at worst. The thing is, \"good\" process doesn\'t stifle innovation it accelerates it. I know it\'s a bit counter-intuitive, but if you want to really drive an initiative/concept/idea subject it to intense scrutiny early and often – if it survives, it will have done so with strong support and validation which will give it the best chance for success. Best wishes Steve…

    […] 15. Senior leadership must champion any new idea being adopted. If someone at the C-suite level is against the new idea, it will likely die on the cutting-room floor. via […]

    David Locke

    February 24, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Innovation fails because of management, not the innovation. Unfortunately the approach you are taking is standard management, which in the case of discontinuous/radical/disruptive innovations fails.

    Moore and Christensen tell us what to do, but their prescription is rarely followed.


      February 24, 2010 at 11:28 pm

      Hi David:

      Thanks for your comment. This may be the first time in my career that I've been accused of taking a standard management approach.:) David, innovation efforts can fail for a variety of reasons, but rarely is failure of any kind due to a single universal reason. Bad ideas, bad process, wrong perceptions, bad timing, bad management, poor leadership or flaws in any number of areas can create failure. Again, keep in mind that innovation and ideas are not one in the same. Disruptive innovation is rarely raw genius that bubbles-up, but rather the culmination of several things: a sound idea, vetted through great process, refined by innovative application and brought to market by outstanding leadership. We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Thanks David.

    Bill Wood

    March 1, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Really great site! I've been slowly working through (and sharpening) a directional business philosophy around customer focused innovation. Your site offers tremendous insight, THANKS!

    To that end, I'd like to know if you would mind if I occasionally re-post your material, with full credits to you and your site?

    For example, a recent but complimentary post I made can be found here:

    Changing the Direction of SAP, ERP, and IT Applications to Focus on the Customer and Innovation

    If you are okay with it I would just like your permission…


      March 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

      Sure Bill…that's what the content is for – sharing. As long as proper attribution is given feel free to use anything that helps. Best wishes Bill.

        Bill Wood

        March 3, 2010 at 1:18 pm

        Okay, I reposted your piece on CEO strategy direction. Please take a look and let me know if you approve or if you would like something changed.

        I did make ONE adjustment, I added a few additional headings where they made sense, but I did NOT change any of the content. And I gave you full credit.


          March 3, 2010 at 3:04 pm

          Hi Bill:

          Thanks for the heads-up Bill.. Your appreciation of, and care for the content is greatly appreciated.

    […] to Twitter friends for pointing me to Ideas Don’t Equal Innovationby Mike Myatt, on his N2Growth Blog. He’s got a good list on his post, with short and sweet […]


    March 29, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    I have to say, every time I come to you have another exciting article to read. One of my friends was talking to me about this topic several weeks ago, so I think I’ll send my friend the url here and see what they say.

    […] article of his that demands some treatment from the Friends here at our blog. In his post, “Ideas Don’t Equal Innovation”, Mike lays out 15 elements to measure what you could do against what you should do. We have […]


    January 14, 2011 at 6:54 am

    Great post Mike with lots of detail and experience. With your permission I will teach these concepts to my creative team. Keep up the good work. Your material is invaluable! Thanks for saving me time, and revealing your experience!


      January 15, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      Hi Tom:

      I'm honored and you most certainly have my permission – that's what the blog is for. Best wishes Tom.


    August 2, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for pointing out a critical distinction. Your 15 points are principles that should have been taken to Washington to cut through all the smoke and mirrors that was the passing of a budget. “Ideas Do Not Equal Innovation”, but they do have consequences -for businesses, individuals, and once free republics.


      Mike Myatt

      August 12, 2011 at 4:10 pm

      Nothing would give me greater pleasure than having some of these thoughts applied in Washington. Perhaps you would take them there for me – Ron for President:)

      Thanks for stopping by Ron.

    Andrew Erlick

    August 10, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Interesting Post!  Innovation happens with the start of an idea.  All ideas should be subjected to investigation, they should be heard and fully understood.  It is up to others in the group or with more experience/knowledge about the subject to give an explaination for why or why not the idea is a valid one.

    People “in-the-know” to should use their exploration tools of moving, looking, recording, analyzing, and deciding, (regardless of the industry) to reasonably pass judgment on an idea.

    Andrew Erlick

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