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Innovation Is An Iterative Process

Companies need to build on original ideas, which is easier said than done

7Jun

July 2017 heralds the release of one of the most eagerly anticipated cars of the year - the Tesla Model 3. The reason this car is so popular isn’t because it is particularly attractive - it’s actually fairly ugly - but because it finally brings the innovations that Tesla have been developing in their higher cost cars to a considerably more affordable model. For instance, the previous Tesla releases had starting prices of $69,500 and $74,000, which is near enough 100% more than the far more reasonable $35,000 asking price for the Model 3.

So how did we get to this point where we are seeing some of the most impressive innovations in electric cars bled down to a more affordable version? Was it Tesla’s vision? Was it Elon Musk’s force of personality? I would argue that it how we got to this point is actually more about looking at how innovation is iterative - built over time and constantly improving. After all, when we look at a model 3, we can look at Elon Musk and the entire team at Tesla and say they’ve done a good job, but at the same time we can point to Henry Ford’s original innovation and see the iterative transformations we have gone through, creating a thread that leads us to this point.

The same is the case with all innovation, whether that’s the development of a new idea in a company or putting a human on the moon. Ultimately many ideas built on top of one another and conjoined to create these changes. Without the invention of fire, rockets would not exist, but I’m relatively sure that whoever discovered fire would have no notion of what a rocket would even be, let alone build it.

It is this idea of gradual iterative changes to an idea that companies and individuals need to accept, which is often fairly difficult. The person who had the original idea often likes to own it, their idea and the success from it should always be their success. It means that people get defensive about the idea and can potentially get defensive about others taking their idea and using it within another that could potentially be even better.

Breaking this kind of thinking is difficult as innovation ownership is one of the key elements that people seek when coming up with a new idea. It is not a case of trying to persuade an individual, but instead fostering a true team-based thought process. This is about more than having team building days, it is about hiring people with the right mindset, creative thinkers who are willing to run with others, something that is often quite difficult to find and even more difficult to foster.

Ultimately, the companies who are truly innovative are the ones who are truly a team willing to work with one another, where the ownership of an idea isn’t simply held by an individual, but by the success of the entire company. It is about recognizing success, but then allowing others to build on it and everybody being supportive of this iterative approach. 

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