What gets in the way of innovation?

Tim Brown: The biggest barrier is needing to know the answer before you get started. This often manifests itself as a desire to have proof that your idea is worthwhile before you actually start the project: “show me the business proof that this is going to be a good idea.” You can understand this, of course, because it’s an attempt to mitigate risk. But wanting to know whether you’ve got the right idea—or the assumption that you’ve got to have a business case—before beginning to explore something kills a lot of innovation.

Now, if you want to do some incremental innovation in a market, with products you understand well, then there’s a reasonable argument that you should have a pretty good business case. But not if your ambition is “to create the next iPod.” Steve Jobs didn’t know what the business case was going to be for the iPod before he started.

The innovation process is a series of divergent and then convergent activities—a very simple concept, but one that a lot of leaders used to managing efficient processes in their businesses struggle with.

via The McKinsey Quarterly