Can you think of a single innovation that didn’t change something?
I didn’t think so.
Innovation is change, or at least, innovation requires change.
In my role as an innovation keynote speaker and workshop facilitator, I recently led a German-based industrial company’s North American IT leadership team through an innovation workshop, during which we spent part of the time working to define their common language of innovation (as described in my book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire). For companies looking to build a sustainable innovation capability this is an important first step.
One of the biggest reasons it is important to define innovation and to spend time creating a common language of innovation is that the word innovation means something different to every individual. It is very easy for companies to spin their wheels when people don’t have the same understanding of what constitutes innovation and what doesn’t.
Because of this danger, when working with companies to help build an innovation system I always make sure that we define what they want innovation to mean in their organization and what their vision, strategy and goals are going to be for innovation. This helps get everyone on the same page and causes people to start seeing some of the changes required in order to build a strong innovation capability in the organization.
As part of this most recent workshop discussion around what constitutes innovation I shared my definition of innovation and we worked together to create a definition that is going to fit their culture and their business.
My own personal definition of innovation is:
“Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into widely adopted solutions valued above every existing alternative.”
I’ve worked pretty hard over the years to refine this definition, and I like my definition because it highlights a couple of inherent tensions and relationships that people must consider. These include:
- Invention vs. innovation
- Useful vs. valuable
- The requirement for an innovation to be widely adopted
- The requirement for an innovation to replace the existing solution
Because innovation requires change, a potential innovation must:
- Create so much value that people are willing to go through the discomfort of abandoning or migrating away from their existing solution (even if it is the oft-ignored ‘do nothing’ solution);
- At the same time, you must also do an outstanding job of helping people access that value through design, packaging, education, etc. so that the product or service is a delight to use and so that you potentially simultaneously increase the overall value of the solution;
- And, finally you must provide a very clear value translation for your potential customers of how this new solution will fit into their lives and is worth the disruption that comes with adopting it.
For those of you familiar with my book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, or with my other writings, you may recognize my Value Innovation Framework and my views on what it takes to achieve successful innovation captured in the above three points.
Organization Size and History Matters
Inside a large organization (or one with a longer history), a potential innovation often inflicts a lot of change on the organization. Inside a large organization or an organization with a longer history, the organization will have grown up around one or two initial solutions and built an infrastructure to maximize the success of those initial solutions. As a result, any potential innovation will often require knowledge, skills, and other resources in order to build and scale it that are new to the organization. This may involve building new distribution channels, hiring people with the necessary skills and expertise, and many more changes required to build the capabilities needed to make the potential innovation a success.
Inside a startup organization this is not the case, and this is the reason why it is often easier and faster for a startup to create and implement a potential innovation than an established company. Because everything is new, there is nothing to change, other than the minds of the customers in order to get them to replace their existing solution and the minds of potential partners to convince them to work with you. This is the advantage that startups have over existing companies.
But the disadvantage startups have is that startups usually have to spend more of their time chasing the funding they need to transform their idea into a realized innovation. Whether the advantages or the disadvantages are larger depends on the startup. And, whether the startup can beat the established organization depends on how good the established organization is at managing change, and how fast it can change.
Most of us work in established organizations that have either grown large because of successful leadership, strategic vision, efficient operations, and continuous improvement and innovation, or we work for an organization that has at least established some level of longevity as a going concern. This means that for most of us we MUST get better at change. We must accept change as a constant and as a key (along with innovation) to our organization continuing to thrive in a sea of rising global competition. We must also get FASTER at change.
One way to do this is to change HOW we change by embracing a new more visual, more collaborative approach to planning our change efforts using tools like my Change Planning Toolkit™. I will be introducing this toolkit in my new book Charting Change, releasing March 9, 2016. People who buy a copy of my book Charting Change will get access to the Change Planning Canvas™ and 25 other tools from the toolkit. As a special gift for everyone else, I will be making a series of 10 free downloads available on my web site from the 50+ frameworks, worksheets and other tools contained in the toolkit (including the popular Visual Project Charter™).
I hope it is now clear that to be successful at innovation that you must become better at change, and I encourage you all to do so!