Why Focusing on Innovation is Killing America

by Jodie Marzett, of

Innovation alone isn't enough

Innovation alone isn’t enough


If you believe that jobs are created by innovation, and that innovation is what drives our economy and business growth, you may want to rethink your position. Before you grimace and stop reading – hear me out.

The model most believed is that inventing new ideas results in new businesses, and from those new businesses comes the creation of new jobs. While this sounds exciting, the reality is that jobs and economic growth come primarily from entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs have customers, and those customers create more new jobs, resulting in economic growth.  In fact, all inventions require an entrepreneur to turn that invention into a product or service that has customers willing to buy it. Innovations without customers are worthless, right?

I equate this to lack of planning. If you have a great idea, and you turn your idea into a reality – a tangible “thing”, but you have no plan beyond building that “thing” (how are you going to sell it, market it, ensure it is solving some problem that exists in the market, etc.), then you just wasted an awful lot of time. If you haven’t thought through your entire business model BEFORE you start innovating, you’ve likely wasted a whole lot of brain power. Why? Because, once your amazing innovation is created, you’ll have to run around trying to figure out whether or not anyone will actually pay money for it. What if you find that people are not willing to pay for your amazing invention? Or what if you waste another year simply trying to market your new, already-built “thing” before you start seeing any sales or revenue from it? So many people waste that precious up-front time in planning things all the way out first, before they waste their time. Time is a non-renewable resource that, once gone, you can never get back. In fact, time is more valuable than money itself, because you can always make money back, but time – once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

Innovators are creatives, and I firmly believe that the world needs them. It’s just that, far too often I see people jumping to build “the next big widget”, when they haven’t clearly thought through who will actually even USE that widget. Is it really something people even want? What do they have NOW that they use, and will the widget address their true problem, or is it just a band-aid to their problem? Before a creative innovates a solution, they better make sure someone else hasn’t already solved the same problem, but a different way (and often times, a better way). They also better make sure they understand the root cause – what the real problem actually is, instead of trying to solve “symptoms” of an overall problems (the typical “band-aid fix”). This holds true regardless of industry, too! It doesn’t matter if you are in the public or private sector, the saying “build it and they will come” is a risky one, at best, and more often than not it is simply a failed approach.

So, it isn’t that we don’t need innovators. Instead, to truly push us forward, we need innovators paired with entrepreneurs that are true project managers – people who understand the value of solid, up-front planning. So many organizations have “strategies”, and what they believe to be “solid plans” to achieve their strategies. What they don’t realize is that, without understanding every single action needed to achieve that plan, it isn’t a viable plan. Without understanding every single resource required to perform those actions (be it money, time, personnel, skill sets, training, facilities, etc.), they don’t actually have a viable plan – they have nothing more than a “wish”. Let’s look at this in the form of an example, shall we?

If you were taking a road trip to Disney World, you wouldn’t do it without having a plan in place, would you? For example, what gear would you pack for your trip? How many people will be traveling in the car so you can decide between driving your Honda Fit (small) or your Honda Odyssey (large)? How much money will you need to pay for gasoline on your drive? Does your car need to be serviced before you drive out? Which roads will you take to get there, and how long will it take you? Where are you starting from? Where will you be finishing? Will you have one or two hotel stops along the way, or drive straight-through? Will you bring food along for hte drive, or just plan to stop at restaurants along the way? In other words, you may not have written down every single detail, but you have a complete plan – and when you don’t, you become frustrated, irritated, and the trip itself becomes less enjoyable. The same scenario holds true in business. If you don’t have a crisp and clear plan that captures who is doing what, when they are doing it, what they are doing it with (equipment, money, people, etc.), what process they are doing it within (governance and decision-making), chaos ensues. Sadly then, not far behind that is a decrease in moral. You may claim to be an “agile” organization, or a die-hard PMI Framework follower – it doesn’t matter. If you aren’t following a plan (it can be iterative, and should be), you can’t get there. Not without a lot of retrying and inefficiencies along your path.

My point? Pair the innovators with proven entrepreneurial project managers (no offense, but simply having a “PMP” behind your name doesn’t make you a “proven” PM) to have a feasible plan for bringing those amazing innovations out into the public and private sectors. The goal is to benefit REAL customers, who will get REAL value from the end results, and who would find the value great enough to pay for it. These combinations are the power that generates jobs and spark economical growth – you cannot focus on just innovation alone, or we’ll all fail.