I like to watch Shark Tank. If you haven’t seen it on the ABC network, it is a show where contestants pitch their business ideas to a group of celebrity angle investors (Sharks) in the hopes of getting them to invest money so that the contestants can start or grow their business. While ideas and contestants vary greatly, there are two commonalities on every segment. First, the Sharks always ask every contestant (or contestants if there is a team) what makes their idea or product unique. Second, most of contestants respond with something like “I’m very passionate and I’ll work very hard.” All that is great, but it doesn’t say anything about why that idea or product is unique. In other words it doesn’t answer the question being asked. Decision makers don’t like it when people seeking support don’t answer their questions directly.
On the last episode I watched, the one pair of constants was having such a hard time coming up with an answer beyond the knee jerk reply of “we’re very passionate and we’ll work very hard,” that Mark Cuban (one of the Sharks and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks) threatened to not even consider them if they mentioned passion and hard work one more time. While that may seem harsh, as I pondered it I was reminded of all the times I’ve seen people in business go to a group of stakeholders for some kind of support for what they claimed was an innovative idea and they best they could come up with for how it was innovative was passion and hard work. While passion and hard work are important, the simple truth is that for a solution to be innovative it needs much more.
As we’ve talked about in another blog posting; innovation is about successfully implementing creative ideas (Van Stamm, 2008), and creativity is about solving some problem in a new way (Franken, 2006). Far too often when we are trying to solve a problem in business, we are like those contestants on Shark Tank who are assuming that just being passionate and just working hard is good enough. It is not. That passion can get us focused, and the hard work can keep us going, but we need more to get to innovation. We have to clearly define a problem that needs a solution. We have to come up with solution that is either totally new, or at least significantly improves an existing option. Most importantly we have to structure our solution in a way that it returns more benefit than the effort invested. And of course we have to be able to explain why our solution solves that problem in a new and cost effective way in terms that others can clearly understand. Otherwise we’ll be like some of those contestants on Shark Tank who just can’t get a deal.
Franken, R. E. (2006). Human Motivation, 6th eds. Independence, KY: Cengage Learning.
Von Stamm, B. (2008). Managing innovation, design and creativity, 2nd ed. Chichester, United Kingdom: Wiley.
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About the Author
Jimmy Brown, Ph.D. is a senior level management consultant with eighteen years of experience leading efforts to develop and implement practical strategies for business performance improvement. Dr. Brown has held senior level consulting positions at leading firms such as Booz-Allen & Hamilton, Accenture and Hewlett-Packard.
He can be reached at www.jimmybrownphd.com or via Twitter @jimmybrownphd