August 19

Innovation Definition

Where to start? How do you define something which is as much an attitude, a state of mind, as it is a practical, game changing, business reality? And this is the problem. Business leaders may believe that instilling a culture of innovation within their organisation will deliver market leading results; but from talking to people and study the results of surveys it is clear that very few really understand what innovation is all about.

Partly that’s history’s fault. When business was all about creating the product then invention and innovation were seen as two sides of the same coin; both looking to do something new in a bid to capture market share. And whilst some individuals within an organisation were tasked with inventing/innovating/research and development, for everyone else the business carried on regardless. So if you were in sales, you used the same methods to sell the product, regardless of what it was. If you were in accounts, then it didn’t really matter where the sales came from, as long as the cash flowed around the system.

But business has changed, business has moved on from an industrialised product base to a post-millennial service base. This means that the differentiator is no longer what I produce but the approach which I bring to my product and my interaction with the marketplace. This in turn demands an entirely new way of doing business one which is collaborative, one which is adaptable, and one which relies on genuine customer insight. In other words, a culture of innovation.

So in this new era, what is the difference between invention and innovation? Is there in fact an innovation definition, which could act as the basis for understanding and moving towards a culture of innovation? Well, yes there is. We would argue that if you’re following the process of introducing something new or different then you are inventing. If you’re doing it in order to solve a genuine problem, to add real value to the customer and drive growth for the creator then you have moved into innovation territory.


However, there is one further stage to go through before you can truly say that you have adopted a culture of innovation. That stage is to move your innovation mindset away from purely the product or service and into the organisation as a whole. In our forthcoming book “Building a Culture of Innovation – A Practical Framework for Placing Innovation at the Core of Your Business”* we do explore dual operating systems or innovating in one sector of an organisation alone, but even here for success the innovation mindset runs far deeper than simply tasking a few people with creating stuff.

This innovation mindset starts at the top; in the attitudes, behaviours and expectations of the leadership team. There’s no point in looking for collaboration if people are targeted on individual achievements alone; there’s no point in looking for solutions if failure is seen as a cause for censure rather than as a learning point; and there is certainly no point in looking to build lasting change if the sole focus of the leadership team is on short-term results.

Building a culture of innovation is not rocket science but it does require understanding and structure. Taking time at the outset to understand the innovation definition and to map out the pathway towards innovation maturity will help leaders to guide their organisations away from pure invention and towards innovative, long lasting and differentiated solutions.

* ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’ Published 3rd December 2015, available for pre-order from 3rd September 2015.


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