What does INNOVATION really mean?

Some months ago, I was sitting in a community economic development meeting being presented a 5 year plan for the regional government. One of the principal tenets was that the community needed to provide an environment that fostered innovation as a key enabler to sustained prosperity.

I was amazed to hear a number of my colleagues, business owners and government leaders, comment on how innovation was an overused term that didn’t really mean anything. Several expressed their lack of understanding of what innovation is and why it is important.

Apparently, my colleagues are not alone. There seems to be a growing frustration on this very topic. (Have a read on successful innovation companies.)

I am sure the people in this meeting were just voicing what many other business and community leaders have asked themselves:

What does innovation really mean?

  1. How does it get realized within a business or organization?
  2. What really is the outcome for the business or organization?

178089032Innovation and Employment in the Intelligent Community , published by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), describes how Innovation is linked to employment for individuals, companies, governments and communities. It turns out that economic growth is not simply a matter of two inputs: capital ($s invested) and labor (people employed), as once thought. A study by economist Moses Abramovitz found that there was a missing X-factor that accounted for growth in economic output. That missing factor turned out to be the introduction of new technology translating into innovation.

Management consultant Peter Drucker suggests that, “the only business activities that actually create value are innovation (making something new) and marketing (finding a way to sell it). Everything else a business does – all of its visible aspects from buildings and assembly lines – are just costs that have to be paid from the proceeds of innovation and marketing.

Striving for innovation is imperative for businesses and organizations today. Competition in today’s wired world is fierce and instantaneous. Finding new ways to do things and sell things is what will keep companies and communities evolving. But many organizations stumble when it comes to arming their people with the right leadership skills, processes and tools to truly implement and understand the power of innovation.

So how do you start to realize innovation in your organization?

  1. First define the sandbox. What is broken and where is their new ways of doing something?
  2. How will people in a business or organization work together to foster innovation?
  3. How will success be defined?

For many years, ET Group has kept a close eye on question #2. Many companies and organizations spend a great deal of time and money identifying opportunities for innovation but then fail to allow the people in their organizations to collaborate in a way that will foster innovation in their organizations.

Authors Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese, in their book The Collaboration Imperative, suggest that “improved collaboration represents your best opportunity to tap the full range of talents of your people, move with greater speed and flexibility and compete to win over the next decade.”

Collaboration is perhaps the most important tenet of innovation and should be part of a definition in any organization.