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Innovation Inspiration: Why You Need to Produce Masterpieces, Not Me-Toos

Innovation Inspiration: Why You Need to Produce Masterpieces, Not Me-Toos

“The more books we read, the clearer it becomes that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence.”

—Cyril Connolly, literary critic and writer


Today’s innovation inspiration comes from the world of writing.

To adapt Cyril’s words, the more solutions I see, the clearer it becomes that the true function of an innovator is to produce a masterpiece. No other job is of any consequence.

Innovation is often understood as introducing a new method, idea or product—anyone can do it, right? But introducing something new is not enough. Very few people produce a work of outstanding artistry, skill, or workmanship to be worthy of recognition­—let alone to be the best piece of work they are capable of producing.

Neilsen estimates that 85% of new products are unsuccessful, having not achieved popularity, profit, or distinction. Innovators are devoting significant time, effort, and energy—not to mention vast sums of money—to make something that, eventually, will succeed only one time in every fifteen.

Some believe this result is due to failures in marketing. They may be right in thinking so. But all the market research and advertising in the world won’t matter if our solutions don’t help people to get an important job done better.

Others believe this outcome is due to failures in design. That may also be true. Yet, all the purpose, planning and intention that exists behind our solutions won’t matter if they don’t help people to get an important job done better.

I believe the critical failure of most innovations is in not knowing what job people are trying to complete and in what ways solutions could help them to get the job done meaningfully better.

In the absence of knowing this, innovators may default to the conventional wisdom of developing solutions that emulate a rival that has already been successful. These me-too products are a disservice to the production of our masterworks. We incur an opportunity cost when we sacrifice the pursuit of creating our finest work with trying to surpass our competition by imitation and one-upmanship.

Historically, craftsmen would submit a piece of work—their masterpiece as a qualification for membership to a guild as an acknowledged master. Today, we present our work to another judge—the market. Before we do so, let us look to notable thinkers, serial entrepreneurs, and marketers of successful products in our domain as our standard. Let us use their reference as our benchmark and ask, “Their solutions are hired to get a job done—how can we get it done significantly better?”

Failures are inevitable. Failures are also solvable. Let us not fail by producing me-too products. That path is riddled with failures anyway. Let us instead act as craftsmen and strive to create something that is our best piece of work, something that is striking, worthy of attention, and of importance and significance.

Eric Eskey

Eric has more than 17 years of experience with innovation management and corporate venturing. Prior to rejoining Strategyn, he was a Senior Manager in the Innovation and Digital Enterprise Strategy practice of Ernst & Young LLP for two years. He began his career at Tektronix, spent six years with HP leading an R&D team and co-founding a new business creation team, and was a senior Strategy Advisor with Strategyn for ten years. Eric has a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Portland and an MBA from Purdue University. He also holds a certification in change management.

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