Why a few firms are better than others? What competitive advantages do they have over competitors and rivals? Why can’t other firms copy success factors easily? A large number of entrepreneurs and intellectual giants credit innovation and invention for sustainable competitive advantage established by firms. I concur with the rationale and in this article I build on the concept of innovation as a source of workplace excellence with the support of an article by an intellectual giant, Peter Drucker. Not many people would undermine the importance of innovation for workplace competitive advantage thus we shift our focus to a more relevant area to explore and that is the origin and usage of innovation to stay an edge ahead of competition in personal and professional spheres. But, is innovation a resource which can be explored and used by one and all or is it limited to the wizards and blessed personalities? Or to be precise, is innovation and invention inspiration or hard work?
We can keep arguing going back and forth on this topic and would not come to a decisive answer. I would however like to argue that innovation is more hard work than inspiration. Inspiration is important but the bulk of innovation is done through hard work.
We all believe that we are capable of innovating and each and every human is blessed with capacity to innovate. Not everything spectacular can however be termed as innovation. Anything can be termed as an innovation only of it serves a particular need. Peter Drucker, writes in his article that, innovation is real work, and it can and should be managed like any other corporate function. Drucker further argues that most innovative business ideas come from methodically analyzing seven areas of opportunity. Four such areas of opportunity exist within a company or industry: unexpected occurrences, incongruities, process needs, and industry and market changes. Three more sources of opportunity exist outside a company in its social and intellectual environment: demographic changes, changes in perception, and new knowledge.
Related article from Harvard Business Review: Discipline of Innovation
While we can argue that Information Technology (IT) innovation and entrepreneurship spin-off more due to chance but industry stalwarts would argue that it’s the hard-earned ability which coupled with rich intellectual capital and previous researches bring out the magic. While Facebook, Twitter, Google etc. are credited to the young guns who were geniuses inspired by geniuses but the foundation on these innovation and entrepreneurship ventures were laid decades ago. The cumulative hardship and perseverance of IT industry over the years has made series of innovations possible. Another reason is that IT or Pharmaceutical innovations are easy to quantify than the operational innovation by other industries.
So a thorough research and analysis plus a lot of hard work is required to open the doors of innovation. But, analysis will take you only so far. Once you’ve identified an attractive opportunity, you still need a leap of imagination to arrive at the right response—call it “functional inspiration.” Innovation and invention is the specific function of entrepreneurship, whether in an existing business, a public service institution, or a new venture started by a lone person in the family kitchen. Today, much confusion exists about the proper definition of entrepreneurship. At the heart of that activity is innovation: the effort to create purposeful, focused change in an enterprise’s economic or social potential.
Recently, Intrapreneurship has been introduced as a term somewhat synonymous to entrepreneurship but the former refers to within organization innovation and display of entrepreneurship. A lot of companies now stress on innovation and the organizations with a cumulative effort prove themselves as entrepreneurial and creative. This again brings us back to the point of hard work versus inspirations and chances. Without undermining the importance of chances or sudden revelations, the business fraternity still counts on hard work as a propellant of innovation and invention.
Getting back to the argument by Peter Drucker, there are, of course, innovation and invention that spring from a flash of genius. Most innovations, especially the successful ones, result from a conscious, purposeful search for innovation opportunities, which are found only in a few situations. Genuinely entrepreneurial businesses have two “first pages”—a problem page and an opportunity page—and managers spend equal time on both.