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Creativity & Innovation

Innovation! What exactly do you mean?

Innovation_WordcloudDuring a recent workshop, we had some interesting conversations about the meaning of innovation. Some people felt it was about developing new services, others that it was about new technologies. Another view was that just because someone had had a great idea (creativity) for how to solve a business problem, the solution couldn’t necessarily be described as an innovation. Yet another participant said that he was introducing technologies to his workgroup, but they were things he had been using in his previous roles, 20 years ago. He said that “innovation” was, therefore, dependent on the context and timing.

In a way, they were all correct. Innovation is a word that is used so regularly in business conversations that it risks being meaningless, despite its perceived importance.

Here’s a useful Slideshare presentation that discusses and defines different types of innovation outcome. There are plenty more models and views on what innovation is, or is not, and this particular one doesn’t touch on the scale/impact of an innovation. It does, however, suggest that introducing something new from a previous era, or another industry, is more about adopting “best practices” than about innovating. [Maybe “an old innovation” is not such an oxymoron after all]

My conclusion is that there are at least three factors that are important to consider:

  • The type of innovation that you may be looking for (e.g. product, process, business model, brand)
  • The context within which you are trying to innovate (e.g. timing or business/product lifecycle)
  • The scale and impact you are trying to achieve as a result of innovating (e.g. incremental, breakthrough or disruption)

Another really good reference is Doblin’s Ten Types of Innovation which even has an iOS App to help you identify industry patterns of innovation and a list of tactics to follow.

Of course, none of these models tell you anything about whether or not your particular organisation is actually capable of innovating! That is the Leadership and Change Management challenge.

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