Innovation Is Cheap – Mediocrity (The Failure To Innovate) Is What Is Expensive

My blogging colleague, Bob Morris, has written about the difference between creativity and innovation.  And there are many books, some quite wonderful, about creativity and innovation.  But here is what hit me directly between the eyes about it this weekend.

It is a quote in Drive by Daniel Pink.  Pink argues that extrinsic motivation (Pink:  Motivation 2.0) – you know, rewards and punishments, the kind of motivation that was made famous and served workers well in the early part of the 20th century, does not help in jobs that require creativity and innovation.  In fact, they can be counterproductive, practically de-motivating.

And in the midst of his discussion of the new approach to motivation needed in the workplace of today, is this quote:

“The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas.  Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive.  In the long run, innovation is cheap.  Mediocrity is expensive – and autonomy can be the antidote.”  (Tom Kelley, General Manager IDEO).

Kelley is an innovation guru, and his firm, IDEO, is an innovation factory.  They are hired to come up with designs for products.  So, everything has to be new.

But think about what he wrote.  Innovation is cheap, because breakthrough innovations provide the next product/system/approach that leads to market share and maybe market dominance.  In other words, if you want to discover what is really expensive, then fail to innovate.  If you don’t innovate; if you don’t stay ahead of the next iteration and/or breakthrough, then your success of today will disappear in a heartbeat.

It is mediocrity – the failure to innovate when you could have, and you should have – that is so very expensive.

So, whatever else leaders need to provide, this is one thing they’d best not fail it – providing an environment that truly nurtures innovation.

That’s really what Pink’s book, Drive, is all about.

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