There’s a old and hokey saying that particularly people in advertising still like repeating, one that specifies what clients want and what they can get. In its most succinct form it goes: “Cheap, fast, good – pick two.”. So you can get something cheap and fast, but it won’t be very good. Or you can get something good quickly, but it won’t be cheap. You can even get something good for cheap, but you need to be prepared to wait. So it goes. This is taken as gospel in a lot of industries, particularly those that depend on knowledge, creativity, and professional skills – design, writing, and yes, ads. But what about innovation?
To a lot of people, including a lot of managers, innovation seems almost magical. It is just this… thing, that can transform ideas into riches just like that. Get the right idea, execute it well, and hey presto, innovation! Yet I would argue that the old adage about cheap, fast, and good holds in innovation as well, and may be an even stronger “law” in this field.
To start, innovating quickly is really difficult. Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, a lot of people are trying rapid innovation, but are facing the fact that this either requires a lot of resources or doesn’t create the best innovations (I’m looking at you, hand-sanitizer innovators…). If you want an innovation on the cheap, you have to resign yourself to the fact that this can take a lot of time. On the other hand, you can speed things up, but that means investing heavily into experiments and multiple teams working on the same problem.
Innovation isn’t magic. It is a process of creation much like anything else. In all creative endeavors there are trade-offs, and if anything, innovation has more of them than many others do. So don’t be that client at the ad agency, insisting that they should get genius work for a pittance, deliverable today. The ad agencies like them, and the innovators might like them even less.