CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Debate - Entrepreneurs Must Understand the Difference Between Innovation Process and Content

CEO Debate

Entrepreneurs Must Understand the Difference Between Innovation Process and Content

Min Basadur

The “big secret” of innovation is that you must master the process before you can come up with content, or what makes up a truly breakthrough idea. 

This means that it’s important through the innovation process that you concentrate on continuously finding and solving important problems, which requires that you concentrate on process. Most people, however, ignore process and focus only on content.

Simply defined, content is what you work with, and process is how you work on it. When you focus all your attention on content, you will create no better than mediocre products. To distinguish yourself from your competition, you must understand the crucial difference between these two innovation components.

To clearly distinguish between process and content, let’s take an example from an automobile assembly plant. A good company will put a lot of thought into the elements of an efficient and effective assembly line. The assembly line itself is how (the process) all the parts (the content) are put together to make the automobile (the product). If the parts (the content) are flawed or the workers lack the technical knowledge to run the machines, the final product will be of poor quality. If the line itself (the process) is flawed, the product will again be of lower quality.

What if both the parts and the technology and the assembly line are high quality, but the assembly line workers and their managers lack teamwork skills in running the line (process skills)? Again, the result will be the same: a poor-quality automobile.

What you need for a high-quality result is a combination of good content, good process, and good process skills.

To keep from jumping into content without considering process, you must be deliberate, slow down, and methodically work through the process. Successful entrepreneurs learn to act as process leaders rather than subject matter experts. This means not just engaging in a four-hour product development session, but immersing yourself 24 hours a day in all your dealings with customers and investors, and in all of the marketing, operations, and financial problems you’re trying to solve.

An effective process is often invisible to the onlooker. Think of the major leaguer who makes baseball look easy, or the actor who makes the audience forget he’s only acting. Their years of practice have given them high process skills. As with most things, you need to practice, practice, and practice.

Apply these three critical process skills to ensure a winning innovative outcome:

  1. Deferral of judgment. This demands an open-mindedness to new opportunities, deferring action on a problem in order to seek out facts, and a willingness to look for alternative ways to define a problem.
  2. Active divergence. Active divergence shows up when you continually seek new opportunities for change and improvement, view ambiguous solutions as desirable, and seek potential relationships beyond the known facts. It also includes realizing that the early stages of innovation require the patience to discover the right questions before seeking the right answers.
  3. Active convergence. When you concentrate on continuously finding and solving important problems, while taking reasonable risks to proceed on an option instead of waiting for the “perfect” answer, you are engaging in active convergence. Follow through on implementation plans and do whatever it takes to ensure successful implementation.

Entrepreneurs and their teams must learn to become self-aware that process leads to better outcomes. Then, over their startup journey, they’ll likely find themselves passing those companies that moved too quickly, executing poorly conceived plans that didn’t truly address what their market wants. 

Written by Min Basadur.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Debate - Entrepreneurs Must Understand the Difference Between Innovation Process and Content
Min Basadur
Min Basadur is Professor Emeritus of Innovation at McMaster University, Canada, and founder of Basadur Applied Creativity. Michael Goldsby is Stoops Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Chief Entrepreneurship Officer at Ball State University. Rob Mathews is Executive Director of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at Ball University. Their new book, Design-Centered Entrepreneurship, Second Edition (Routledge, 2022), provides a research-driven, step-by-step approach to creative problem-solving.

Min Basadur is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. For more information, visit the author’s LinkedIn page and website.