12 Apr You’re Innovative…Or Are You?
Innovation and the First Stealth Aircraft
I read a book about Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Program when I was in college, studying Management Information Systems and Entrepreneurship. They called the program “Skunkworks” and even if you didn’t know that the term was coined at Lockheed, chances were you’d probably heard of it before. Feats of aeronautical engineering that had never been done, and in many cases were thought to be impossible, were mastered at the program.
Two famous planes from the program were the SR-71 Blackbird and the first ever stealth aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk. One of my favorite stories from the book was one where the program had the Air Force set up a radar station in the middle of the desert to see if military-grade systems would be able to track the F-117. With a second plane trailing the billion dollar prototype, to ensure they wouldn’t lose it, they gave simple instructions to the Air Force: “Find the plane on the radar.” As one Airman stood outside for visual confirmation, the stealth prototype began to fly overhead and the Airman’s jaw practically hit the floor when he saw the bizarre-looking plane, like something out of a Science Fiction movie, flying through the sky. A short while later, the trailing plane crossed the same path and the radar techs came out of the booth yelling, “We got it! We saw it on radar!” “How many planes did you see?” the program members asked. Confused, the radar techs said, “One plane, we got the one plane”, to which the Airman sheepishly said, “There were two planes, although it’s hard to call the first one a plane!”
So, what’s the point of this story? The clear display of innovation.
While we’re not all building innovative stealth technology or hypersonic aircrafts, we all have our own F-117 Nighthawks, whether it be a product, a customer experience, a brand, a cost, a distribution chain, etc.
But Innovation can’t just be a mindset or a word in your Mission Statement. And as cool as it may look, innovation can’t just be an office space full of video games and Ping Pong tables.
So, How Do you Determine if your “Innovation” Initiatives are Actually Innovative? Answer these 3 simple questions to get started:
- What is your innovation budget this year?
- What is your targeted failure rate for these initiatives?
- Who is in charge of your innovation program?
If you have answers to these three questions, you can stop reading here. If not, read on for some helpful tips.
Bringing Innovation to Your Organization
You have to choose what is right for you. Innovation can be applied to a number of things, including cost reductions or new products/services you might sell with new go-to market strategies. It can come in the form of branding and positioning. And then it can come in the form of ‘something the world has never seen’, but those are sometimes ‘bigger, more expensive swings.’
Innovation needs to be extremely process-driven. You can build your own steps and processes based on how your company works. This all starts at the top, and it takes the right types of leaders. There’s a book by Tom and Susan Kuczmarski called, Apples are Squares that is worth a read when it comes to building a process for innovation.
While there is so much more detail to go into, and many more components of how to ‘Systematize’ Innovation, I’ll just spend another minute on my favorite topic: FAILURE!
Celebrating Failure as Part of your Innovation Strategy
If you expect every innovation project to be 100% successful, then your innovation program is going to move very slowly. The process should be nimble and experimental, with measured steps and a tolerance for failure. Celebrate the failure. And more importantly, celebrate the learnings from the failure.
Here is a great example of an interaction I had recently with a year 1, getting into year 2 Innovation department in a Fortune 2000 company. This particular company outsources some of their innovation initiatives to companies like mine, specifically those initiatives that are related to ‘Content’ (documents, data, forms, audio, video, chatbot text) and how that moves through an organization with people interacting and making decisions. The department explained to me that they:
- Have a Sandbox of data and Content
- Want to do Pilots that last no longer than 90 days
- Have a list of ten initiatives/problems they are trying to solve at all times
- Will often implement different and interesting innovations, even if they don’t necessarily solve a problem
To conclude our conversation, one member of the department said, “I need to run to catch a plane. I have to get in front of our Board of Directors and explain to them that not every single one of these Pilots is going to work and in many cases, nothing will come out of it.” This organization’s tolerance for failure was enlightening to me – it’s the reason that I believe their innovation initiatives work so well.
The Main Takeaway
Innovation is an important piece of the “building a successful organization” puzzle – but, it must be done correctly in order to be effective. Interested in transforming your company’s digital initiatives? Check out my company, RhinoDox, and the solutions we offer for a variety of industries and organizations.
Justin Ullman is the Founder & CEO of RhinoDox. He has been in the Technology and Content Management industry, helping companies create differentiation and workforce efficiency, for over two decades. When Justin’s not a busy Rhino, he enjoys playing shows with his band, and spending time with his family and friends.