How do you eat an elephant? Invention is cool but innovation moves the needle

If you take pride in getting things done, then innovation, not invention, may be your best bet for job satisfaction.  Think about what it takes to make changes in your department or organization.  It takes a lot of collaboration and consensus which that takes time and energy, neither of which you seem to have enough of.  It makes sense that you’ll want to make the most of time and energy.

The bigger and more expensive the change, the bigger the circle of consensus becomes.  For example, the bigger your project, the more expensive it will be, making the budgeting process more difficult.  Researching and talking with multiple vendors about their solutions and building a solid justification can take a year.  The budget committee can be a crap shoot and can turn you down which means you’ll have to start over and wait another year.  In addition, think about what is involved in getting your IT team or interface team on board and scheduled.  The bigger the resource drain, the more work you’ll have to do to convince them of your great idea.

Invention means disruption on a large scale.  innovation means disruption on a smaller scale.  If you take the long view, you will realize you don’t have to win, and probably can’t win all the marbles on one shot.  Taking a couple steps forward today with innovative ideas is better than a higher risk of trying to jump forward.  There is also the concept of project risk to consider.  Big inventive projects simply have more risk for failure.

You don’t have to choose innovation or invention to begin.  Instead, find the workflows that you are responsible for, that are broken or that take a lot of resources or that take too long, or are difficult to staff.  Once you have your sights set, begin isolating on the one thing or a small number of things, that if you fixed, would stand out and be recognized as a really nice win.  For example, we have a customer that has identified a workflow that needs help.  Just one part of that workflow involves eight full time equivalents.  An innovative approach would be to focus on streamlining that one aspect of the workflow and reassigning those eight people to higher level tasks and to let Extract’s HealthyData software handle what the software is good at.  The risk, the cost, and the benefits really line up behind what is best described as simple innovation.  Later, other parts of the workflow that need to be improved can be and will be improved because of the success of the innovation.

In the above example, an invention alternative addresses the eight FTE workflow problem plus a number of other issues.  Inventing a new workflow will involve a bigger price tag and will impact multiple other departments.  It will take longer to get project and budgetary approvals, it will take longer to implement, and there will be a greater risk of project failure.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The phrase seems to have originated at some point in the 13th century, in a related Latin form: Plus valet in manibus avis unica quam dupla silvis.

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

About the Author: David Rasmussen

David Rasmussen is the President of Extract. With 30 years’ experience leading software companies, David is driven by the challenge to consistently find groundbreaking ways to solve customer problems. David finds it rewarding to hit the customer’s target and create a great team, build a solid infrastructure, and emerge with a strong value proposition.