Innovation – more action, less of the word

Innovation is a term that has become so widely used. We hear it on the television, we read about it in newspapers and trade press, our MD or CEO are calling for more of it. In fact, the more you hear about it, the more you have to question the reason as to why it has become such a common term (other than it’s perceived as good for business and UK plc as a whole).

Other reasons might include:

  • It is seen as a critical asset in today’s competitive market
  • The value of innovation is being felt therefore, let’s have more of it
  • Senior management want it but aren’t getting it and therefore they have to keep asking for it
  • It’s become a buzz word whose meaning is being lost in the plethora of references to it
  • Maybe organisations are genuinely desperate for it but fail to understand how to enable innovation other than to hire greater expertise or make efforts to manage the innovation process (which of course makes sense)

I suspect all of the above have a part to play. Irrespective of the reasons, it is a term we frequently hear and are likely to do so for a very long time to come because of the obvious value of it.

If you were asked the question “what is innovation”, how would you answer?

Maybe you see it as the development of new products and services or perhaps using technologies in new ways. You may answer that innovation is something R&D come up with or even that it is about finding new ways to tackle problems.

Again, I suspect that all the above are relevant answers and there are bound to be more although I equally suspect that there will be differing views on this adding to the ‘fuzzy’ nature of the term.

Innovation to me is quite simple. It is developing new products, services, processes and systems that solve real problems and/or meet the requirements of customers and markets so that additional benefits are delivered over and above those that can already be realised. It is also applying new and existing technologies in new ways that similarly deliver additional benefits.

Another somewhat useful question to answer is rather than ‘what is innovation’ how about ‘how do we innovate’? This, to me, is a somewhat more interesting question which may lead us back to the beginning and provide some answers as to why we hear the term so frequently.

The ‘how do we innovate’ bit is a little trickier to deal with because one of the critical parts of innovation (creativity and idea generation) is often down to a wide range of factors that include chance, opportunity, inspiration, genius, dogged determination, coincidence, accident and more. It is because of these many and varied ingredients that it is difficult for many to see how this essential part of the innovation cycle can be ‘managed’ or significantly improved, adding further to the ‘fuzziness’.

Whilst there is a lot of emphasis these days on managing innovation processes, one would have to question the value of this unless the creativity and idea generation element is also harnessed in a way that will lead to higher volumes of higher quality ideas. After all, innovation relies entirely upon this for its quality. This suggests that whilst we can introduce efficiencies into our innovation processes through better management, the quality of innovation is unlikely to be greatly affected.

Perhaps then, this is the reason that we hear the frequent call for innovation. Maybe it is because whilst there are efforts being made towards fostering innovation through improved processes and the management of those processes, improvements in innovation are still not matching expectations or desired levels.

The good news is that there are established and proven systematic tools and processes that will significantly increase the volume and quality ideas. If we were to focus more on these, the quality of innovation would in turn significantly increase.

Perhaps we would then see more innovation and hear less of the word.

Do get in touch if you feel your organisation could benefit from significantly increased levels of great ideas.

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5 thoughts on “Innovation – more action, less of the word

  1. Wise words. I don’t know of any organisation that can survive by doing what it always did! As Tim suggests innovation can be major things like a breakthrough product or service or simply ideas and changes that improve internal processes, improve profitability or perhaps provide a better customer/client experience. Reading Tim’s book is proof that non creative types can come up with great ideas if they know which tools to use! Any recent success stories Tim?

    • Hi John, thanks for your comments. Just this week I ran a workshop for a client involved in the reprocessing of nuclear waste (dirty business). They are at the early stages of a £1.7bn project in Cumbria and in a determination to deliver an outstanding project they wanted to generate some great ideas around the best solution. The outcome was in excess of 300 great ideas – not bad for just under three hours work! Hope all’s well with you John.

  2. I am pretty certain most businesses would struggle to come up with so many ideas without the correct facilitation. The above is fantastic evidence that your stuff works. I am guessing that the client you refer to us full of ultra bright people who recognise they are not good at everything!

  3. Without a doubt they are ultra bright people, also sceptical to begin with! Several people commented that without our support they would have still been debating the first idea at the end of the three hours!!

    • Healthy scepticism is a good thing! I often find that once sceptical people have evidence that outside help actually works they often become some of the best advocates.

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