The word “innovation” appears everywhere in mission statements, strategy documents, and CEO speeches. As recognized by Wired, innovation is “the buzzword of the decade in the worlds of business and education.”
Innovation may seem simple in concept, but creating a more innovative organization is far from simple in practice. Let’s cut through the blizzard of blog posts and books to identify the few key themes about innovation that every organizational leader needs to know.
What should I know?
It’s here to stay and not a fad—both organizations and individuals must take note. Innovation is a competency that has long been practiced with some organizations being naturally adept at it and others not. Rather than hoping it happens, organizations are focusing on becoming more intentional about achieving innovation. If you have not already brought innovation principles into your organization, your competitors most likely have.
What is the definition of innovation?
This is an often asked question with the facetious answer of it doesn’t really matter. The field of quality has been around for over 50 years now without a universally accepted definition. Most innovation definitions include elements of developing something new, creating value, and putting it to use.
What are the basic themes to keep in mind about innovation?
The guiding principle of innovation is delivering value. It’s also an activity about model building, not process following.
How about the secrets that not many people know?
Successful innovation requires establishing two successful value propositions – one for the external customer and another one, maybe different, for the organization developing it. Establishing these two value propositions are often more important in larger organizations where the organization might not be supportive and nurturing of the new activities.
What do I do at the organizational level?
At the organizational level, put in place three activities or platforms to support innovation – discovery, development, and execution. The discovery activity encourages the identification of opportunities and concepts. The development phase builds prototypes to explore and experiment with concepts. The execution phase takes the best and promising prototypes and turns them into offerings in the marketplace. These are not three sequential steps but are interlinked activities.
What do I do at the project level?
To inspire innovation at the project level, set a direction and be willing to experiment. Not much innovation is going to happen in a project guided by a detailed project plan.
What do I do at the personal level?
The innovation competencies are domain, systems, and discovery related. Build your expertise in the domain or field where you want to have an impact. Study systems concepts which include the ability to conceptualize a complex system from multiple perspectives. Finally move beyond tips and tricks and begin to use tools that encourage practice of the discovery skills and inspire innovation. The Business Model Canvas and Innovation Canvas are good places to start to explore innovation in the development of business models or product designs.
Innovation is simple in concept but enormously challenging in practice. To become more intentional about creating a more innovative organization, adopt the guiding principles and tools that are emerging.