As someone who trolls the landscape of various clients’ businesses looking for new ideas, I am a lover of facts. To me, even a small fact about a client’s business or market provides a small foothold on which to lift up a new idea. Facts can be a small flame from which I can start a big fire burning.
Facts can provide a key insight to an unmet need. Unearthing a need yet served is the most fertile ground for innovation. In this case, facts are the most useful ingredient in the recipe for innovation. They spell out a prime opportunity to invent a product or service to meet a need.
Facts can provide direction for new idea development. A single fact can help to direct idea development in a more fruitful direction. Like adding a facet to a diamond, a fact can help to shape an innovative idea towards a more valuable proposition.
Facts can reinforce direction for innovation efforts already underway. Many innovative ideas never come to light because those responsible for marshaling it along the way lose their faith. Objective facts, gathered along the way, can help to confirm that the idea will be useful and successful. Facts can provide fuel to keep moving along the path of development and reinforce that all the effort is going to be worth it.
However, I am often surprisingly alone in my appreciation for facts and their potential to drive innovation. It’s baffling to me, but I see the resistance to facts happen frequently enough to know it’s a reality. Having seen this resistance many times, I’ve diagnosed a few reasons why it happens:
Many believe facts stifle creativity. In some cases, free-flowing creativity is the genesis for innovation. However, in most cases, businesses can’t afford either the time or lack of efficiency this free-flow represents. I find that a few, well placed facts can generate ideas, not stifle their flow. I believe the opportunity is not to view facts as putting up walls which block creative flow, but to view them as stepping stones on the path to creativity and useful innovation.
Leaders may resist facts fearing that the facts may not agree with their vision. If “Don’t confuse me with the facts” sounds familiar, it could be a case of someone not wanting to hear anything that doesn’t agree with their preconceived notion. Unfortunately, very skilled and experienced business people feel that learning something new is a sign that they don’t know all there is to know. Instead, I believe that new knowledge must be treated as true leadership — a recognition that new facts present themselves all the time and only the inept turn a deaf ear. Openness to learning is the hallmark of a true innovation professional.