The highway and the meadow
Often, attempts at innovation tend to fail. The enthusiastic R&D or project manager, who was so good at his previous job, is appointed as innovation manager and then quits. Sadder but wiser after two or three years of fruitless attempts. What happened?
The metaphor of the highway and the meadow is a good way of explaining this. Companies and organisations fine-tune their processes in such a way that their products and services reach their customers easily and fast. In other words: they take the highway. No potholes, bumps or other obstacles, just ultra-fast asphalt with preferably four lanes and no traffic jams.
However, innovation requires a completely different process. Innovation is like driving through a meadow, bumping from hole to tussock, maneuvering between shallow ditches and vast lakes, discovering what works best. It’s about trial and error, returning to the drawing board and, ultimately, booking success.
In the operational organisation, people are judged on ‘return on investment’, ROI. I propose a different ROI in the meadow: return on ideas. It would be better for organisations and companies to facilitate this by the board; with both financing and staffing. Once an idea has taken shape and is ready to be brought to ‘the market’, it should be taken from the meadow to the highway via the acceleration lane. Not too soon. Let’s not quash the idea as if it were a shy, hesitating hedgehog. Ooohhh, poor animal….