Innovation can transform an industry. It can provide a competitive advantage or even solve a problem. It can even be considered an artistic masterpiece. But innovation doesn't usually happen overnight. It happens over time as an organization develops and cultivates an idea. Innovation is the result of strategic discipline and is just like any other skill. The more you work on an innovation, the more you master it.
Innovating the Light Bulb
Thomas Edison is usually credited as the inventor of the light bulb. This however, is not a completely accurate statement. Years before Edison, several other inventors had successfully tested an electric light. Edison, however, was the one who retained the discipline to master this new technology.
In the early stages of this innovation, the challenge faced was creating a light bulb that would work for an extended period of time. The first versions of the light bulb would burn out after a very short amount of time. As the story goes, Edison diligently worked on this innovation failing 10,000 times before he finally found an acceptable combination of parts.
While Thomas Edison didn't technically "invent" the light bulb, it was his discipline that ultimately brought this game changing innovation to the world. For this reason, Edison is considered the father of the light bulb.
Trial & Error Innovation
I was recently listening to Stephen Issac, a founder of Touchfire, in an interview and was impressed with the discipline this company had as they were developing an innovative keyboard for the iPad. During the interview, the Issac stated that they spent months developing their first product and had gone through 50 different prototypes until they were finally able to find one that worked on the iPad.
To create fifty different prototypes costing a couple thousand dollars each took a great deal of discipline. Issac said that they didn't just create a keyboard, they essentially "reinvented the way typing works and the way keyboards work."
Developing a keyboard for the iPad was much more challenging than developing a regular keyboard. The challenge the founders faced was that a keyboard that sits on top of an ipad had to be made of a material that was thin enough that the iPad could still recognize the finger touch on the iPad screen. In addition, the founders had to create a keyboard where the users could rest their fingers on top of the keys, without the iPad sensors picking up resting fingers.
Once the product was developed, Apple created a new product: the iPad Mini. While the original idea of a TouchFire for the mini was to simply shrink down their original product, Issac discovered that the entire product needed to be reworked in order to function on the iPad Mini. It took them many months of discipline before they finally mastered the Touchfire for the iPad Mini.
Without discipline, this innovative idea never would have come to fruition.
How can discipline help your organization innovate?