Writing weekly articles is not easy and, I’ll admit, sometimes I just mail it in. That was pretty much my plan for December because, as I convinced myself, “no one has time to read anything this time of year.”

I drew up a list of lists. You know the ones, the lists of this year’s top whatevers. One of the lists on my list was “Top Innovations of 2019” but, when I sat down to write it, my mind went blank.

Undeterred, I decided to tap into the wisdom of the crowd and post a request on Help A Reporter Out (HARO).

That’s when things got interesting…

Here’s what I posted:

2019’s Best Innovations

What products or services came onto the market in 2019 and changed your life? Why was this so life-changing? What, if anything, did it replace?

Only complete responses please (i.e. NO “if this is of interest to you, please call me)

Please include in your submission:

1. Answers to the 3 questions above

2. How you would like to be credited (name, title, company)

3. ONE link that should be affiliated with your post (e.g. company website, LinkedIn profile, Twitter handle)

I received 32 responses within 8 hours!

An excellent start to my plan to not write an article.

Then, I started reading through the responses.

Here’s what I learned:

  • There is a lot of innovation happening in the adult personal care space. From camel-toe proof athletic underwear, to all sorts of menstruation products, to personal pleasure products, there is A LOT happening below the waistline. And I don’t want to write about it. Sorry.
  • Posting on HARO is a great way to get free stuff. Most of the promotional pitches offered to send me their products so I could try them out. It’s a nice gesture but claiming the SWAG seemed dishonest and, especially with regards to the types of innovations mentioned above, Thank You but No.
  • Be very clear about all the things you don’t want when asking for input. I clearly stated that I didn’t want a bunch of cliff-hanger responses, but it never occurred to me that I would have to say no promotional pitches. And no products that I can’t walk to my parents about.

That last lesson doesn’t just apply to requesting pitches for an article, it applies to essentially every aspect of a business, especially innovation.

Innovation thrives within constraints.

When entrepreneurs start companies, they face very real constraints — not enough time and money, no easy access to the talent and capabilities they need. Yet when intrapreneurs start innovation projects, they’re told that “the sky is the limit” or “do what you think is right and we’ll support you.”

Those are lies and they waste massive amounts of time, energy, and goodwill.

Instead, corporate leaders and innovators need to be clear about everything they DO NOT want. Many of my clients have constraints around the size of business they want (businesses more than $XM in revenue), minimum profit margin, target geographies and/or populations, and even acceptable revenue models.

By establishing constraints, leaders create the environment required for innovators to be creative and successful.

Without constraints, teams may find real problems and develop great solutions but come back with something that the company will never support. Like a medical device company with an innovation team that designed an app-controlled wearable vibrator*

Amongst the many pitches, however, there were stories from people who found innovations that solved problems and created value. You can read all about them here.

*Not a real story but, as I learned from reading the pitches, a real product