Generating ideas is easy, but turning them into reality is innovation and requires attributes that most organizations don't have.

The Idea

Every now and then we get a “Aha!’ moment when we get an insight. When we see something differently for the first time.

I remember when, in the first few months of my journey to improve the performance of projects I realized that the actual value generated from projects was almost entirely determined by the business – only they didn’t know it, they didn’t know how to do it and no one was helping them.

Einstein had an insight on a balcony in Vienna when he realized that he wasn’t seeing the clock tower across the city rather that the clock tower was sending light to him.

Insights are good and valuable but in and of themselves are not innovation. Innovation is insight put into action.

Einstein’s insight led him to explore the speed of light leading to the development of the theory of relativity.

My own initial insight, that the business controlled the value generated from projects, led to a life's work and the development of a business-driven approach to projects – TOP®.

Ideas versus Execution

Ideas people are rarely implementers. They speak in grand notions and abstract details but cannot translate these into step-by-step actions that translate their insights into innovations.

When new products come out, some people point to them and say, “I had that idea years ago, but didn’t do anything with it.”

Innovation relies on follow through action – all the way to commercialisation in some cases.

Xerox and Philips are two companies renowned for great ideas that they failed to translate into commercial products.

It is only in the translation of an idea into practical use that the true viability of the idea becomes clear. An idea works in practice – or fails.

For example: the original idea behind Business Reengineering was that you had to challenge the business rules and this would allow you to break through to new ways of working. Only, it did not work in practice. In practice you had to challenge the processes and their strategic intent, which is why the concept of ‘business reengineering’ failed – the idea was not capable of being translated into an innovation.

Converting ideas into innovations

The workload and skill sets needed to translate an idea into a working innovation are significant. The success of the Apple products is as much to do with the ecosystems they have developed around their products (iTunes, the Apps store, iBooks) as the design and functionality of the products (their ideas).

In Conclusion

Many people have ideas as to how to improve projects, but few have succeeded to translate these into innovations. Too many try to build on what exists today rather than challenging the 'norm'.

Ideas are 'easy'. Innovation is hard — it requires disciplined execution, follow through and persistence.

Do these attributes describe your organization? 

Topics: Engineered Thinking/Ideas/Innovation

Further Reading



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Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Nov 2011) as "Insight v Innovation"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections