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The Communication of Innovation
Posted on April 28th, 2016 by Chris Walker in Chemical R&D
It’s not uncommon for technical- or technology-based companies to place innovation at their core. Innovation drives new products, services and offerings. Innovation is the heartbeat that underpins everything else.
But great ideas and brilliant solutions are not enough on their own. Every good idea needs to be shared, sooner or later. Whether it’s with a customer, shareholder, manager, user, partner or someone else, innovation never exists in isolation. Collaboration always becomes one of the ingredients of successful innovation (even if not right from the start).
If innovation exists as the heartbeat of an organization, perhaps it is communication that forms the arteries which make innovation valuable in the first place.
But what does it look like to communicate innovative ideas well? Here are some thoughts.
Sharing an idea or innovative solution is not the same as sharing a finished product. It’s far less tangible, far less concrete. While some people are better than others at coping with that, there will always be an element of imagination involved when communicating anything innovative. In communicating a new idea, you’re asking someone to share in the vision and understanding you have. And that can be difficult to do.
For thousands of years, humans have used stories to communicate truths. Most of us find stories engaging and are able to find the meaning and truths hidden within them. Stories can be useful tools in communicating our ideas. Instead of focusing solely on technical details, specifications or models, we can use language which speaks to the impact our innovation will have, how it will be used and what we see as possible. Stories can be a way of sharing our imagination with others.
When dreaming of the new and focussing on creating something innovative, it’s easy to get lost in a world of ideas inside our heads. That creativity is really helpful when piecing things together, but less helpful when we’re trying to let someone else in on progress.
There’s an important distinction between what the innovative idea is and the progress that has been made to reach this point. If communicating an innovative idea, it’s useful to focus on communicating only this innovative idea. Nobody needs to know what your previous iteration looked like or which other failed path you went down previously. That information can be helpful in moving forward, but only after everyone shares a clear understanding of what the current idea is.
So where it’s possible to do so, be specific. Use numbers, mock-ups and details to ground the stories you tell. But only share the details you know. In the early stages of development, it’s ok to not have all the details sewn up, so don’t pretend they are if they aren’t yet.
Effective communication of new ideas most definitely involves an element of good timing. If shared too soon, there isn’t enough for someone to buy in to. If shared too late, the opportunity for someone to help shape development (which is one of the main benefits of sharing an idea) has passed.
There’s a call to make – when is it best to share this idea with this person? And the answer will vary depending on who you’re thinking about.
Perhaps if leaning one way though, it’s best to share too early rather that too late. Even if you’re not able to fully draw someone into your idea the first time around, perhaps you’ll be able to plant a seed which you can revisit later.
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