The Most Important Word In Innovation Is ….

by Roy Luebke

Why.

This word has led humanity down from the trees, out of Egypt, out of the Dark Ages, through the Enlightenment, the Industrial Age and into the Information Age. Asking why is the basis of scientific endeavors during the search for truth. The ability to ask “why” is what sets humans apart from any other species on Earth, or across the universe as far as we currently know.

Far too often people jump immediately into solution mode. People try to fix things before really knowing what is wrong. By doing so, an entirely new set of problems are created called unintended consequences. People seem to operate in panic mode today, rushing to the next dilemma before thinking through the ramifications of their actions. By many accounts, there seems to be a growing lack of focus, and subsequently a growing dissatisfaction with work across a wide spectrum of people.

In any organizational setting, people need to know why they exist in the first place. In order to move a company forward it is necessary to know the future intent the leadership has for the entity before answering how is it going to be achieved. Strategic intent is not about today, next week or next month, it is about the purpose for the organization and what it can be in the future. Answering why the organization exists sets the purpose for all activity and efforts expended.

Why do customers/users/staff people do the things they do? Why don’t they do something else? Why do they take one action under certain conditions and not another? Why are products and services built the way they are? Why are channel partners doing what they are doing? Why does the competition do what they do? Why does a firm have a certain set of capabilities and not other sets? Why does a certain culture exist in the organization?

The beauty and frustration of asking why is that it never ends. More awareness, more insight, more knowledge allows people in business to create offerings and business models that are more appropriate for the changes underway in the human condition.

Any organization seeking to create growth must understand why things are the way they are before they can be changed effectively. Designing the future requires understanding the unsatisfactory state of current conditions, or what exists in the world that can be applied to create a new reality, before appropriate and useful solutions are conceived and executed. In a business sense these solutions must deliver profit growth, and not just by cost-cutting or off-shoring jobs.

The second most powerful word to deliver new customer value (aka innovation) is effectiveness. Peter Drucker wrote extensively on effectiveness, but that is for another day. In the meantime, before launching off on another wild-goose-chase, why not ask why before committing to a course of action? It might surprise you.

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Roy LuebkeRoy Luebke is an innovation expert focused on discovering new, customer-driven opportunity areas to help define the future of a company. He is inspired by knowledge and learning, and applying structured tools and methods at the crossroads of strategy and innovation to achieve business growth.

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  1. You are right “why?” is the starting point but everyone I speak too in corporations are fixated on the “how” as they are to intent on getting the ‘why’ or ‘what’ out the door!!

    • A friend of mine sent me a note about this last night. Due to a total obsession with cost reduction, people are now working a standard 10 to 12 hours a day and on the weekends just to keep up. People don’t have time to think, they are being forced into just doing, doing, doing.

      As a result, more and unnecessary work is created because of mistakes and oversights. The obsession with cost-cutting is actually making things much more difficult. Profit is being generated by reducing the people in the process but not by generating new customer value and new revenue.

  2. IMHO “Why” is not the most important word. I think it’s a choice between:

    Why Not?

    and,

    Yes.

    Why is easy to ask, it puts the pressure on the other person to provide the answer, the rationale, to justify their bravery in asking and experimenting and imagining a future that they can influence or create – never an easy place to be, and certainly not the place good leaders should put their colleagues in.

    Why Not? invites participation, fosters a confident and have-a-go mentality, and is the basis of experimentation.

    Yes. The answer that doesn’t just permit, it conveys trust, belief, decisiveness.

    Why is important, but leading innovation isn’t just about knowing why, it’s about taking action, doing something, creating something. Business Analysts ask why. Accountants ask why. Anyone and everyone can ask why. But Why Not? and Yes. Now these are words that empower people to action.

  3. Mike:

    Your response is similar to what many people do, they go to solution mode. Asking why not indicates a person is considering an alternative. That is part of the solution process, nothing wrong with it at all. Also, getting to yes is either part of the solution process or the end of the decision selection.

    In many instances people ask why as a stand-in for “prove it”. By framing the issue or problem more effectively by more deeply understanding the human motivations behind any unsatisfactory reality will help deliver a more relevant solution.

    I agree with your statement that innovation is a result. There is a process to getting to the result that should be more focused on understanding the human drivers and framing the problem more effectively in order to deliver a better solution.

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