I recently learnt that many college and university students are uninterested in the ideas and techniques that underpin innovation because they feel that it doesn’t apply to them. If they do not envisage becoming entrepreneurs or designers or engineers or scientists then what’s the point? I do not believe it is a massive leap of the imagination to assume that this type of thinking might also permeate the general working populace. That’s disappointing because there are very few, if any, organisations that are content to rest on their laurels and coast along at the same levels of performance year on year in any part of their value chain. If you want to avoid slipping back in the pack then you have got to innovate and this applies to every area not just the laboratories…
“Innovation opportunities do not come with the tempest but with the rustling of the breeze” – Peter Drucker
I believe that the problem is two-fold. The first is an issue with the perception of what innovation is really about. The second is the lack of a supporting culture and environment. If we look at the issue of perception then we must tackle the common association of innovation with inventors and risk-taking entrepreneurs. Within this context there is an added dimension that innovation needs to be disruptive, groundbreaking and downright exceptional to warrant pursuit. Together, these ideas fire up our most powerful emotion – fear. Excelling at the status quo seems much more appealing. This brings us to the second issue – the nature of that status quo. If everyone is running around like headless chickens with 110% of their focus on ‘business-as-usual’ then there will be scant opportunity to innovate. Moreover, if the infrastructure does not provide adequate tools for collaboration and personal development then it will be hard to get traction. Finally, if the culture does not foster some degree of intrapreneurialism then it will always be someone else’s job to break new ground and improve things.
The key point is that innovation can be quite simple and still deliver incredible value. Any change that takes you to a better place will have travelled the innovation pathway in one form or another. The only important constraint is the ultimate return on investment and the opportunity cost – will it be it worth it and, even if it is, would we be better off doing something else? Don’t forget that this need be measured holistically – both learning and social impact are often more important that financial gains. If there was a problem worth solving or an opportunity to be realised and you have delivered value in that context then you have innovated for sure. Innovation is not purely the domain of designers, boffins or consultants. At its heart innovation is the integration of people, things and ideas. Typically, innovation can be classified as one of four types: sustaining (incremental improvements), migration (a new application or market), breakthrough (some step-change in performance or value) or disruptive (super-focused game changer). Broadly, it might focus on business models, marketing, organization, process, products, services or supply-chains (check out Doblin’s ‘ten types’ for even more granularity). The trick is to think holistically. Think systems. Innovating in and across any of these spaces can bring value and is something that everyone can and should embrace.
Participating in an innovation process brings variety and added meaning. Adopting a problem-solving and continuous improvement mindset results in higher levels of engagement and fulfillment. With the right enablers and a clear vision, collaboration will increase and coherent benefits will emerge.
At the end of the day it makes sense to think positively about ways that we can improve ourselves, what we do and how we can help others. What are the jobs to be done and how can we make them easier and more effective?
“Every act of creation is, first of all, an act of destruction.” – Pablo Picasso