Is This Really Innovation?


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OK, now you’ve got a definition. One of the most common definitions now popular in Australia is that Innovation is the application of fresh ideas that enable a business to better compete in the future. In the future? Damn! Your boss just told you to be more innovative. Now!

The good old trustworthy Wikipedia Innovation defines innovation as the creation or improvement of products, technologies, or ideas that generally signify a substantial change or difference that results in an increased value to the customer or the producer. As such, innovation leads to increased productivity and is therefore a fundamental source of increasing wealth for business. Wikipedia even helpfully prompts that to ‘innovate’ successfully; businesses need to focus on the process, from the origination of an idea to its transformation into something useful, to its implementation; and on the system within which the process of innovation unfolds.

A very good friend works for a multinational company. For the first twenty something years he enjoyed going to work, as ‘I did something new and innovative every day’. But in the past five years or so, this attitude has evaporated. Lack of direction, lack of visionary leadership, lack of support for new ideas, peppered with Tourette syndrome, random coo-wee calls from top management ‘we need to be more innovative’.

What do you mean? What do I need to change to be more innovative?

He has just showed me a five page document sent from the overseas HQ announcing that the company is going to turn around the culture to be more competitive. It goes into lengths to name the programs and initiatives. There are carefully coined program names, acronyms and jargon I am sure local management doesn’t even relate to. There is a caveat that the culture program is not going to be separated from day to day operations (that’s good), but never steps down from the cloud to give a recipe of what to do or how.

It will blow over! Things will settle to how things are done. You can almost feel the dust in your teeth before the fall. And, the word innovation is not even mentioned in these five pages. How can you get different results if you do not start doing things differently, i.e. innovate?

We all agree that innovation means something new and different. But for innovation to occur, and occur often enough to count, it needs a human touch: will and reason. Only people among the living species are capable of innovating: creating something meaningfully new. People innovate, not companies. But for companies to be innovative, the right people need to be put in the right system. And, I agree that culture needs to be built organically and not always by drastic, disruptive change management that goes out the door with the last CEO. It starts with the shared vision, reason, and becomes a never-ending journey, step by step.

The right environment is one that inspires innovation activity by providing:

•    A common goal
•    Framework
•    Great tools
•    Continuity
•    Consistency, and
•    Engagement that comes from celebrating success and embracing failure.

Innovation is not just a program. It’s a way of life, based on a voluntary participation that initiates and self-corrects in pursuit of a common cause.

I have just received an email from a Friend of InnoFuture. He manages a 35-people-strong R&D department in a multinational FMCG company. He is on holidays in the UK, but is searching for new ideas as always, because “as you know yourself – Innovators never sleep”. (Yeh, I know!) He attended my recent online event on ‘building hot innovation teams’ wanting to know how to leverage the talent and whether all his people need to be ‘creative’. We answered this question and you can listen to the video below to check out some great content on what it means to be creative and how to be and help your people be creative – from the head-space architect, Amantha Imber.

So, if you want better-different results, perhaps you need to consider creating a Cult around innovation. Make it a destination for ‘knowledge tastings’ – like the short, content-rich InnoFuture online events, or establish ‘cafe conversations’, or ‘weekly takeaway habit’ like a Friday ‘pizza night’.

All my friends know I don’t cook on Fridays but they can always join us for pizza … and… for the initiated… chilled vodka. If you are in Melbourne, you can always invite yourself. We can add innovation to the conversation topics. After all, all Friends of InnoFuture are my Friends.

Margaret Manson
Chief Inspirator | InnoFuture

P.S. Join InnoFuture for the next FREE online event of fresh content, inspiration and answers.