Many of us spend time learning what strategies others have used to grow their business, developed a breakthrough idea and increased exposure for their work.
But this advice always comes with a caveat: you can employ a set of principles but there is no silver bullet (like how to get actually 300 000 views).
Most of the advice is what we already know: do the work, keep moving forward, and spend time figuring out your added value, be authentic and do something that you believe actually matters.
Yet, what to do when you are faced with a perfect problem and cannot find advice or role models/examples of how others have solved it?
This is where the concept of innovation stack can assist in managing your mindset on innovation.
Going from a perfect problem to a solution
Innovation stacks are layers of decisions that are dynamic and interlocking: you cannot drive a successful business unless you keep all the parts of the innovation stack functioning.
When you start with the problem or idea that you believe is world-changing, be prepared that it is highly likely that there are no examples to follow.
But just because it has not been done does not mean that you cannot do it.
We often start from fear because of the herd mentality: stepping outside of what is accepted and “normal” causes us to think we shouldn’t.
If we let this fear remain and be our guiding principle, we will never innovate.
In fact, innovation stacks incorporate failure, multiple paths and decisions that enable us to arrive in a workable solution that is new.
In theory, we accept that we are likely to fail and when we do, we are determined to learn and do better.
However, when we actually fail, most of us become insanely scared and draw the hasty conclusion that this idea or problem cannot be solved.
And so we move on in search of other problems and ideas that we can solve.
Yet, here lies our missed opportunity: doing an actual analysis of why we failed, and which of the actions and factors would need to change for the idea to succeed.
Innovation stacks are dynamic learning processes and the key is to manage our headspace.
If we want to create something meaningful, we need to accept our role as innovators.
No one is an expert until they learn
We often don’t give an idea a shot because we are not experts in that particular area.
Granted, some fields of study and scientific professions do need more expertise than others.
You wouldn’t want to be operated by a doctor who doesn’t have proper qualifications but has a great idea for a new type of surgery.
But rather than dismissing an idea because it is new and we don’t have experience (yet), focus on remaining curious.
Just pure curiosity has led to many of the scientific and business breakthroughs; harnessing those “what if” moments many of us have.
Jim McKelvey encourages us to embrace the new:
“When it comes to doing something new, we are all even. Entrepreneurship starts at zero” (p. 251) because “There are no experts in the new” (p. 269).
Just because you don’t master a set of skills yet and have not studied something for 30 years does not mean that you cannot make a valuable contribution.
In science, it is often the novices, the new people like students, who come into a scientific field and start noticing inconsistencies in how things are done.
They are the ones with new fresh eyes and are not bound by the assumptions that older and more experienced scientists accept as given.
In fact, there has been considerable research on the concept of the expertise trap where expertise actually blinds us from coming up with novel ideas.
Persisting in learning is a key part of an innovation stack mindset.
Disrupt because you can add value
The Silicon Valley and business journals talk constantly about disrupting the markets, disrupting the disruptors as a way to break into new markets.
The common guidance is that start-up success is measured by the number of how many big companies you take down and how much of your competition you can cut.
But being an entrepreneur and developing ideas that matter does not mean that we need to be ruthless, selfish and arrogant.
In fact, most successful entrepreneurs have focused on the opposite.
They focused on creating markets where none existed or expanding markets that have been too narrow and excluded some groups from access:
“The vast majority of entrepreneurial ventures did not steal their customers from any established businesses, but rather brought new people into the market. Optimism, innovation and inclusion are the buzzwords of those who expand markets” (p. 230).
We don’t have to disrupt a market just because one exists.
We can however add value and change the rules where needed.
One of the keys to unlocking real value is alignment between your vision and the decisions that are necessary:
“Running a world-changing company requires thousands of employees to make millions of decisions” (p. 219).
For example, Southwest Airlines “burned” their rule book in the 1980s because they wanted their staff to make decisions on the basis of a shared vision and common culture.
Companies that have been able to “disrupt” the market have done so because of their vision to create something so compelling that directs their employees every step.
In the journey of becoming an innovator, it is the mindset that matters.
And that is a free resource that you can cultivate in millions of ways, even if you are not an expert (yet).