Innovators and Incrementors

Which are you?  Innovator or incrementor?

It’s cool to call ourselves innovators.  But, I bet most of us are actually “incrementors,” trying to pass ourselves off as innovators.

What’s an incrementor?  That’s the person who looks for incremental improvements, minor adjustments to what we’re doing today.  Incrementors thrive in most corporate settings where steadiness and incremental (there’s that word) growth are celebrated.

True innovation is risky.  It’s hard.  Hard to describe.  Hard to plan.  Hard to justify.  It requires a belief in the power of the unknown.  It requires independence of thought and creativity that most of us don’t have.

Innovators are the ones we rely on to bring us the crazy new idea, the new perspective, the new paradigm.  Innovators make connections we’ve never thought of.  They extrapolate ideas in directions we can’t imagine.

Innovators are also the ones incrementors fear the most.

Consider typical questions innovators receive within most organizations:

  • Don’t you realize we’ve always done things this way and it’s worked?
  • What if your new idea doesn’t work?
  • What if it fails? How are we measuring success and failure?
  • Is this worth the risk? Can we afford to invest in this research?
  • Why are we spending money on something that’s not even guaranteed to work?
  • What do you mean, the first attempt failed? And now you’re asking to fund a second attempt?  How can we justify the second attempt when the first attempt failed?
  • Can we have a couple more people take a look at this thing before we commit to funding it?
  • What does the committee think we should do?
  • Can you define the dollars we’re going to generate in new revenue or reduced expenses from this innovation? What is the payback period going to be?
  • How will the market respond to this new innovation? How can we be sure?  Who do you have researching that for us?
  • Will you deliver the same results we’ve seen in prior years, at the same time you’re diverting some of your resources to creating this new innovation?
  • What are our competitors doing? Aren’t we already light years ahead of them?  Why should we push so hard?
  • Who are we trying to attract with this new innovation that we don’t already have?
  • Will this new innovation create a fundamental change in our core business model? What will that mean to our company?
  • Do we have the right people working on this new innovation? Shouldn’t we wait until we have the right people?
  • I’m sure the “big guys” are already working on something like this. How can we expect to make any headway in the market if they’re going after the same thing we are?

Are you the one asking, or receiving these questions?  Your answer says a lot about whether you’re an incrementor or an innovator.

It’s always easier to seek out the incremental improvement…and then try to convince everyone that your incremental improvement is innovative.  In some organizations, this mindset will fly, and that’s a victory of sorts.

Unfortunately, it may be a hollow victory if your organization doesn’t make at least some space for innovators to shake things up and point the bumpy way toward new opportunities.

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

 

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