What does innovation mean to you? Although much has been written about innovation, different people answer this question differently. As a result, people pursue innovation in various ways. Sometimes this is a much bigger problem than you can imagine.
The Pandora’s Box of Innovation
Some people consider a new product idea is an innovation. Others think that being able to manage a business better is innovation. Others believe that out of the box thinking is innovation. As a result, people pursue innovation the same way they define it.
I met a senior business leader in a software company who told me that his business is not innovating at all. When I dug deeper, they were innovating a lot, but that didn’t appear like innovation to him. Another client who is a leader of a multi-billion business told me that most of the projects they were working on were undesirable. They were destroying value. These two examples highlight the problem with the fact that we are not clear on what innovation means.
What happens when a leader calls for more innovation? People often use this call as a license for unbridled innovation that meets their definition. Others focus on innovations that fit the mold of big ideas. If innovation only means radical or disruptive innovations, then people may search for only such ideas. In fact, many feel inadequate to pursue such lofty ideas. As a result, a leader’s call for more innovation often leads to weak results.
As a result, a leader’s call for innovation often leads to weak results
This lack of clarity creates many issues. Many people are unsure what to pursue when asked to be more innovative. Should they look for new products, major game changers, or let a thousand flowers bloom.
This lack of clarity on what is innovation leads to lack of clarity on how to get there.
Innovation then becomes the problem of Alice. If you don’t know where you want to go, then any road will lead you there.
What is Innovation?
That brings us to the obvious question – what should it mean then? Let us answer this by finding what is common among the following innovations?
1. The iPhone
2. Brand management practice
3. A cost reduction projects
4. A new process in bill payment that reduces late payments
They are all innovations because they help someone achieve some result in a much better way. An iPhone puts the internet in your hand. The brand management system enabled winning in the market in a new way. A cost reduction system makes you competitive. The new process helps you keep your suppliers happy.
Second, they are all ideas. They are potential ways of improving a situation.
So innovation is a new way of achieving a goal with the power of your ideas. It does not matter if it is the biggest idea or a small idea. As long as your idea helps you or your organization achieve a goal in a much better way, it is an innovation. It goes without saying that your notion should be workable and well implemented.
On the flip side, if your novel idea helps achieve a goal but that goal is not relevant or important, it is not an innovation. Assume you come up with an idea to keep track of birds in your back yard. Since your day job is to build IT systems, this idea may have little impact on your organization. It will be an innovation only if you can use it to build better IT systems or convert it into a viable commercial product.
Innovation is using new ideas to achieve significant organizational goals more effectively
How do you become a more effective innovator then?
There are three components to becoming a more effective innovator. First, understanding what goals are important to your business. Second, knowing what kinds of ideas will help achieve these aims. Third, knowing what kind of ideas you excel in developing.
When you combine these three together, you become a more effective innovator. When you leverage your unique skills, you will develop ideas that others cannot. When you focus on goals that are critical to your organization, you will concentrate on developing most relevant ideas.
Which of these three components do people around you struggle with the most?