Igniting Innovation
ATD Blog

Igniting Innovation in the 21st Century

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Innovation is the best way for a business to adapt, evolve, and anticipate. But it’s hard, and two major obstacles extinguish its fire: conformity and imitation. 


Any business can experience conformity at some point. The symptoms are passivity, preserving the status quo, and even complete opposition to progress. Businesses spy on each other in order to know what others are up to and to align their own strategies accordingly. Conformity turns into a trap when:

  • It becomes the argument-answer that stifles every question and stands as the only truth. You hear comments like: “If this were convenient, everyone would know it.” or “If it was worth working differently, others would have done it before.”
  • It kills creativity and innovation. You hear comments like: “No one does it. Why would we have to go for it?” and “Precisely because no one has done it.”
  • It gets the business stuck in a routine by duplicating what others. You hear comments like: “We have always done it this way.” You rarely hear questions such as:” “Why are we doing what we do?” “How can we do something more efficiently?” or “How would we do if we were to launch such a business today?”

In the end, routine and conformity kill inspiration, and without inspiration it is difficult for people to maintain inner motivation. In other words, conformity is imitation put to sleep. 


In addition to conformity, innovation can be stifled by imitation. No doubt, imitation is the starting point of any long-lasting learning process. We, humans, learn through imitation. From the time we are born, we watch what others do: relatives, friends, teammates, colleagues, and so on.


Then we imitate many of the actions we see. Imitation is the basis of any learning process. The threat from imitation arises when we stubbornly reproduce what the others are already doing without adding one’s own value. At this point imitation turns into copying, and it induces conformity. 3 Keys to Innovation To innovate, we must enter a process that requires conscience and continuous effort. Here are three elements that ignite innovation in the 21st century:

  1. Transgression: We are responsible to change the perception we have of our environment. What possible difference can we make? What opportunities can we spot? This is where our mindset and behavior come in to help us see things differently.
  2. Tests: This is the technical step. It's the phase when you try (and try again) to get your idea to turn into reality. It's prototyping. It's iterating. It's where test-runs are done and mistakes are made.
  3. Transmission: An idea is an idea. Once tested and validated, it has to spread through market, customers, and teams. And this implies to navigate between different expectations and balance between different profiles to set innovation on fire in our businesses and companies.

Want to learn more? Join me in Atlanta at ATD 2017 Conference & Exposition for the session: Innovation in the 21st Century: Create, Build, and Manage Your Dream Team.

About the Author

Trained as a criminologist, Fred Colantonio left the Belgian public administration in 2006 to start a strategy and advising agency. Since 2009, as a professional speaker, Fred has delivered +950 conferences in 14 countries on 3 continents. Since 2010, Fred has published 9 books, 4 of which are bestsellers and 3 of which have been published in both Europe and Quebec.

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