“In the 1980s, the [watchword] was quality; today, it’s innovation . . . But the two are not mutually exclusive . . . Now we want superior quality and faster cost reduction, plus innovation—all at once.”
— Harry Burritt , Whirlpool VP of Corporate Planning and Development
It seems like everywhere you turn these days, people are talking about innovation, and that is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is good because true innovations deliver more value than the solutions they replace and so hopefully most of us are better off when new innovations are introduced and adopted. It is bad because everyone means something slightly different when they talk about innovation. So what is innovation?
My definition for innovation is:
“Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into widely adopted solutions valued above every existing alternative.”
Key points highlighted in my definition are the distinction between invention and innovation, the importance of value, and the requirement that any potential innovation deliver more value than every existing solution (even the “do nothing” solution) in order to become widely adopted. But, this is my definition, and each organization will need to define what innovation means for their organization, and ideally pair this definition with an innovation vision, strategy, and goals that align with their organization’s broader vision, strategy, and goals.
At the same time you hear people talking about innovation, you sometimes hear people say things like “oh, I’m not creative” or “I’ll never get a chance to innovate” or “innovation is not for me” and I have to say that nothing could be further from the truth. Innovation is a team sport, and so nobody should ask whether they are innovative or not, or whether they possess the innovator’s DNA. When it comes to innovation, we all have a role to play.
In my book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, I detail the Nine Innovation Roles that must be filled at various stages of the innovation process in order for your innovation efforts to be successful. They include the:
- Magic Maker
- Customer Champion
I’m of the opinion that all people are innovative, in their own way. This is not to say that all people are innovative in the sense that every single person is good at creating lots of really great ideas, nor do they have to be. I believe instead that everyone has a dominant innovation role at which they excel, and that when properly identified and channeled, the organization stands to maximize its innovation capacity. I believe that all people excel at one or more of the Nine Innovation Roles, and that when organizations engage the right people for the right innovation roles, the organization’s innovation speed and capacity will increase.
And as I mentioned earlier, innovation is all about value and so innovation in the organization does not have to be confined to a few people locked away in a research lab or some secret skunk works project in the company, but instead every manager can create innovation in his or her group. How is this possible?
If we refer back to my definition of innovation above, one of the key components is that innovation creates “widely adopted solutions valued above every existing alternative.” There is nothing preventing those solutions from being solutions that provide value inside the organization or solutions that form a component of a larger customer solution. As a result, this puts the opportunity to innovate within reach of every manager in every organization as long as they do three things well:
1. Value Creation
- You can create new value by making something more efficient, more effective, possible that wasn’t possible before, or by creating new psychological or emotional benefits.
2. Value Translation
- Here you must help people understand the value you’ve created and how it fits into their lives. Incremental innovations can usually just be explained to people because they anchor to something they already understand, but radical or disruptive innovations inevitably require some level of education (often far in advance of the launch).
3. Value Access (aka Friction Reduction)
- How easy do you make it for customers and consumers to access the value you’ve created. How well has the product or service been designed to allow people to access the value easily? How easy is it for the solution to be created? How easy is it for people to do business with you?
So, find out what innovation roles your employees excel at, involve them in looking for opportunities in your department to create a leap in value in what you do, seek out new tools to help them stretch their creative problem solving muscles, experiment, learn from your failures, build upon your successes, and most of all, enjoy your chance to help drive innovation in your organization no matter where you sit on the org chart.
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