Innovation is not an act of discovery but creation

Published © 2023 Daniel Friis

Throughout the past decade, I’ve hosted countless people for talks, tours, and workshops on innovation.

Many ask about the process of coming up with good ideas, and usually, they expect a very deliberate and thought-out process based on thorough analysis and data.

I try to meet their expectations with a half-true answer that resembles a process. The thing is most people, especially those in large corporations, tend to discard ideas which didn’t come from some sort of process. Once, I even saw a slide saying, “No process, no meal!” in a deck about innovation at a large corporation.

The fact is that those types of processes rarely lead to the interesting and exciting innovation that most seek.

Think about it; did any of the revolutionary ideas like AirBnb, Uber, Apple etc., of the past century come from a rigid process of innovation? No, they came from people with good intuition and an opinion about how the future ought to look like.

The fundamental mistake people make when they assume that thorough process, analysis, and end-user involvement is essential for novel innovation is that they think innovation is about discovering opportunities when, in fact, it’s about creating opportunities.

Steve Jobs famously never used focus groups and the like to decide which products to pursue. He had a vision for computing which he brought to life by convincing the rest of us that it was the right vision.

I think the reason why the preference for process has prevailed — especially in large companies — is that it feels safe. It is comforting to know that if an innovation project fails, you can point to the data you used to make your decisions. You waive your responsibility.

There will be typos, half-baked ideas, and opinions presented as facts here. I'm not a professional writer, and I'm not trying to be one. I'm writing these notes as an exercise to clarify my thinking and archive insights worth revisiting. If you find it useful, that's great. If you don't, that's fine too.