Which would you rather have: One big breakthrough or many small breakthroughs?
The biggest breakthroughs are always noticed. Consider the big innovations that rocked the world, starting with fire. Other revolutionary ideas include the wheel, the Guttenberg Press, electricity, the telephone, the microchip, the Internet. They made huge impacts on our lives.
In business, leadership gets applauded for innovative ideas that move a company to another level. Maybe it is a product breakthrough. Maybe it’s a process breakthrough. Regardless of what it is, when it happens, it’s often celebrated.
But, what about the small breakthroughs? Do they get noticed? Often not. Do they have an impact? Yes, they do. Often a series of small breakthroughs can make an even bigger difference than one big one. Furthermore, smaller breakthroughs are often easier and less expensive to implement.
“The pressure to generate big ideas can feel overwhelming, says New York Times bestselling author Josh Linkner in his latest book, Big Little Breakthroughs: How Small, Everyday Innovations Drive Oversized Results. “We know that bold innovations are critical in these disruptive and competitive times, but when it comes to breakthrough thinking, we often freeze up.”
Innovation Comes in 3 Powerful Ways
In his book, Linkner recognizes three types of innovation:
- INNOVATION – (all CAPS)
- Innovation (with just a capital ‘I’)
- innovation (all lower case)
INNOVATION (all caps)
INNOVATION (all caps) is all about major breakthroughs, such as the big ones listed in the first paragraph of this article. Big innovations are what most people think of whenever they think of innovation.
Innovation (with capital ‘I’)
Innovation (with just the first letter capitalized—and not just because it’s the first word in the sentence) is, according to Linkner, “still meaningful, but may not make the history books.” These innovations can still be recognized and celebrated in a big way, especially when they impact the bottom line.
innovation (all lowercase)
And then there is innovation (all lowercase). Often, these are barely acknowledged. While they may seem like they are small, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They are, but unfortunately, they don’t always get the credit they deserve.
How to Truly Measure the Power Behind Breakthroughs Innovation
How powerful are small breakthroughs compared to big ones? “What do you think has more horsepower?” asks Linkner. “One magnificent thoroughbred racehorse or 100 small ponies all pulling together?”
Once you understand that little ideas are powerful and important, this can cause what I refer to as innovation liberation. You recognize the little changes, and how they add up to make a big difference.
In the customer service training programs we create for our clients, there is an exercise we sometimes use. We call it the Moment of Innovation™ Card. While much of our training is about customer service, this is another area we focus on. We look at any idea that makes things better, more efficient, less expensive, revenue-enhancing, safer, greener, etc. Any idea that makes any portion of a company, not just customer service, better.
We are amazed at some of the great ideas, often small, that make little improvements for the company. Something as simple as a larger trashcan in the restroom can be considered a good idea that makes a difference. Obviously, this doesn’t make as big of a difference as a new idea that improves a company’s bottom line, but it’s still an innovative idea.
The point is to get people to think innovatively. No idea is too small.
There’s No Innovation Without Perseverance
Another concept in the book has to do with what Linkner refers to as Obsession. There are eight Obsessions, and it’s the last one with which we’ll close out this article. The eighth Obsession is Fall Seven Times, Stand Eight. Not all innovations work—at least the first time they are implemented.
Consider how many times Thomas Edison failed before inventing the lightbulb. A quick Google search reveals many articles with different numbers. Some say 1,000. Some say 10,000. Regardless, Edison failed many times before he succeeded.
Fall Seven Times, Stand Eight is about resilience. Setbacks are opportunities to bounce back with different approaches to failed ideas. Linkner says, “Fusing tenacity with imagination, the fight is won through a series of creative tweaks and adaptations.”
An innovative culture starts at the top – with leadership. All ideas must be shared for them to be turned into action. A company must have a way to learn what employees are thinking. Even the smallest of ideas may contribute to small successes.
A small idea or breakthrough may not seem like much. That is, until one day you look back and think, “Wow, we’ve come a long way.” It’s the everyday ideas and innovations that drive big—even oversized—results.
This article has been reprinted with permission from Shep Hyken’s Forbes blog.