How many of us have spent hours in cool wanky workshops where we unleash our individual and collective creativity?

Everyone feels great and super excited about the next phase and the state of the world.

The only problem is that for most ideas, the next phase rarely arrives: the actual move from big bright ideas to having the capacity and resources to do something about it. 

So what is going on here? Why is it so easy to dream big, but so hard to actually act on those ideas? 

The book Innovation Capital: How to compete and win like the world’s most innovative leaders seeks out to answer these questions by probing deeply into how to harness support for your ideas and grow your innovation capital. 


What is innovation capital? 

Many great leaders face an innovator’s paradox: they have and generate multiple innovative ideas, yet without resources and support, these ideas rarely see the light of the day.

In face, the innovator’s paradox is simply that “the more novel, radical, or risky your idea, the greater the challenge you will face acquiring the resources you need to turn your idea into reality” (p. 3).

The key therefore to innovative leadership is to understand how you can harness innovation capital, and how you grow and maintain it over time.

Innovation capital is “an intangible force, like political capital, that helps you to assemble the means to implement your ideas” (p. 3).

In the book, the authors divide this kind of capital into three different ones: Social capital, Human capital, and Reputation capital, which together with impression amplifiers form innovation capital.

Innovation capital is really a set of skills and attributes that you can learn that enable you to harness support for your ideas where others might not succeed.

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Make your idea tangible, visible and relatable 

Making your idea tangible is one of the key ways to increase support; tangible in this context can mean a prototype of the product but it can also be different kinds of visualisations of the outcome.

Explaining also your idea in a way that is easy to understand makes it much likelier that other people make a connection to it.

Using a powerful analogy helps people to make sense of what your idea is about:

“The psychology of mental shortcuts (or heuristics) emphasises that analogies and metaphors are efficient mental processes that help humans learn new concepts, form judgments, and make decisions – especially when facing complex problems or incomplete information” (p. 152).

The golden rule here is that you have to blend new and old: something novel that excites people with a splash of familiar so that they can relate the new idea to something they already know.

Knowing your audience and what resonates with them is critical: framing your idea around for example specific benefit that you know your target audience needs or is looking for is going to be more powerful  than presenting range of benefits, some of which might or might not be right for that audience.


Practical steps toward innovation  

The book offers a range of insights into how to start growing your innovation capital but here I have summarised a few that might come in handy:

Constitute a Future Day. Designate one day or block a specific time of a day to seek out information on current state of innovation: what are the big trends? What are the emerging technologies which are about to beat the current game? Who are the leaders in those spaces? How could your current idea build on these trends? 

Some leaders keep a file where they record these insights on weekly basis and even compile these into company wide reports that clearly show others across the organisations where the current and future trends are heading.

Build social capital: think about your most immediate current needs and what kinds of people do you need to connect with. These fall generally into five categories: 1) innovators and entrepreneurs; 2) organisational leaders; 3) financial benefactors or investors; 4) influencers; and 5) customers.

Use LinkedIn tagging to organise your existing contacts, and be purposeful with who you are connecting and why. Don’t connect without a purpose: sending a stranger an invite with a note “I believe in building strong connections” is a no-no. Explain why you are interested in connecting, what is it specifically about their profile and role/skills. More importantly, during Future Day, identify those people or skillsets you need to connect with, and then make contact with those people. 

Be a founder and build your reputation capital. Many people think founders as those who are CEOs of new companies. But being a founder can be simply starting your own group at your organisation and showing clear ownership. You can do this in many different ways: for example, come up with an idea within your organisation and start harnessing support for that.

Not every idea needs to succeed but when people see you trying, you start building both your leadership potential and also reputation capital for innovation. Many venture capitalists often focus more on the reputation of the person (innovator) rather than simply on the strength of the idea. If you have a reputation for being a person who gets things done, your chances landing a deal are much higher. 


The challenge for innovation in climate adaptation 

While I have been reading this book, I can clearly see how so many of the strategies in the book are also fully applicable to adaptation science and the broader field of climate adaptation.

One of the key messages here to me at least is that these strategies can be used to normalise climate adaptation, by using familiar yet novel analogies that make sense to people, and garner support.

Understanding current and future trends across different disciplines and fields, such as business innovation, technologies, new ways of engagement, new ideas on how to improve well-being; all of these have critical insights for climate adaptation that we can harness.

We should not shy away from the very fact that innovation is often risky.

For every idea, there are so many that fail and so many that simply get put on a list of things that could be done, some other time.

So to embrace innovation in climate adaptation, we need to embrace risk, and remain curious as to whether some of the new technologies might work, whether new ways of thinking and doing can actually get us the results and outcomes that seem so far.

Brainstorming together on what future climate adaptation could look like is often not the core challenge but how such visions can be put to practice.

Hence, the need for innovation capital:

“Great leaders of innovation know that creativity is not enough. They succeed not only on the basis of their ideas, but because they have the vision, the reputation, and networks to win the backing needed to commercialise them”

The challenge is to grow our innovation capital as individuals, as organisations, and as the scientific community to make sure we are in a position to garner support for climate adaptation.