Sitting behind your desk and daydreaming about what the future is going to look like is a fun pastime. But how are you going to turn these ideas into reality? How can you make these dreams come true? In other words, How will you accomplish your innovation goals and be successful?
Making a start
Before you start turning your dream into a reality, ask yourself the following questions: Is that truly what I would like the future to look like? Why? Helping others, fulfilling a need that is currently unmet, or making other types of improvements in the lives of your customers, clients or patients, are all good things to fight for. If your motivation is more driven by envy, because your neighbor’s (= your main competitor’s) grass looks greener, it may be a good idea to consider whether such a copycat endeavor is truly worth your energy. Your time is scarce, so try to work on a vision of the future that will benefit many, if you are successful—and not satisfy a passing fancy.
Determined to give it a try?
However, don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead. Fantasizing about future success gives you pleasure and enjoyment in the here and now, but does little to help you focus on addressing the obstacles that lie before you.
Gabriele Oettingen‘s research shows that optimistic dreams and fantasies are more likely to hurt than help your progress: “People who are positively fantasizing about the future can become so relaxed that they don’t get serious about addressing obstacles.” On the other hand, when you use her technique of “mental contrasting” with high expectations of success, it can be energizing and lead to increased goal commitment and the ability to deal with setbacks.
The importance of milestones
To set yourself up for success, define your overall objectives along with the first steps that you will undertake to get you there. Oddly enough, it may not be that effective to start by aiming directly at your main target. If you know what you are doing, you can aim for the bullseye straight away. However, when innovating, things are often not that certain. On the contrary, there are many uncertainties. Understanding which factors are likely to impact your route to success, and how, may require you to shoot some arrows to the side, to learn what and where the limits are.
Milestones guide you throughout your project, as they define the next goal to shoot for. Your initial ones should be a series of first (exploratory) steps. They will break the large objective into small, attainable, short-term steps that will give you insight into how to achieve your end goal along with a realistic perspective on what it will take to get there.
When the going gets tough
Murphy’s law applies to innovation as much as it does to everyday life. If anything can go wrong, it will. So expect setbacks and develop resilience. In the meantime, it can be difficult to distinguish between tough-to-reach goals and foolish attempts. For everyone except Don Quixote, it was clear that tilting at windmills would lead to nowhere. That is why mentors or coaches are so important in the innovation process. Although they cannot do your work for you, mentors can help you differentiate between unrealistic dreams and tough-to-reach goals, and help you stay on track.
Innovation management helps to frame all innovation projects that are ongoing in your organization—to ensure that every project has realistic goals, addresses obstacles, and gets the help of mentors.