Many LinkedIn posts and group discussions are about innovation. A typical question:
“How do you implement innovation in a conservative organization?”
Summarizing the typical comments: “You don’t.” “The culture won’t let you.” “It’s all about the appetite for risk.” “You can’t change people’s thinking.” “Hire a bunch of young people and keep them – if you can.” “It’s hopeless – look at Kodak, Blockbuster, Borders bookstores.”
I disagree. It is difficult to implement new ways of doing things, create new products provide new value to new customers in new and more profitable ways. Difficult, yes; impossible, no.
Let’s puzzle through how to make a company more innovative, thinking in process terms.
What is Innovation?
Webster’s defines innovation as
“ the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods.”
My London Business School classmate, Dimis Michaelides, author of The Art of Innovation defines it as:
“the creation of something new and useful.”
Scott Berkun, speaker, CNBC commentator, and author of many books including The Myths of Innovation, defines innovation as:
Significant positive change. . . that solves a problem. . . and is adopted”
So the process of innovation produces a result– new product, service, method, or business model (method of making money from the value provided to customers.) Now we are getting somewhere – a result can be measured.
The process of innovation also produces something “useful” that “solves a problem.” Who would judge whether the innovation was useful or solved the problem? The customer would and we’d know that by measuring the extent to which it was adopted.
What we’ve left out is the whole idea of “newness,” which I guess is central to a discussion of innovation. The concept of “newness,” seems to produce a lot of excitement in some people, who simply must be the first to have the latest piece of electronic gee-whizery. I am a self-described late-adopter, so newness is less important to me than the value of functionality. I have the feeling that “newness,” is most relevant if new value is produced for the customer.
Newness is often a matter of scale – a jet engine turned on its side becomes a rocket that will take us into space or a Walkman tape player becomes an iPod Nano or vacuum tubes become transistors become integrated circuits carved into a silicon chip.