Innovation. A term often bandied around and something that all forward thinking companies strive to deliver in spades. The question is, how can companies take advantage of this elusive trait, is it something a person is born with or is it something that a company can cultivate as a product of the cultural environment? If the environment does indeed play a part, then increasingly how might the use of digital technology to connect ourselves and our ideas effects this process?
When you first consider the term innovation, you may be forgiven for thinking that it concerns a moment of great insight, which happens with people who are inherently “innovative”. It’s a term that has alot of myths attached to it. I came across the below table from an HBR Article which addresses these quite nicely.
|Innovation is random||Innovation is a discipline — it can be measured and managed. Consider how Procter & Gamble’s structured approach to innovation allowed it to triple its innovation success rate and double the size of a typical initiative.|
|Only creative geniuses can innovate||Innovation is distinct from creativity. While creativity can help, people who aren’t intrinsically creative can create high-impact innovation if they follow the right process.|
|You’re either an innovator or you’re not||Research recounted in The Innovator’s DNA described how innovation is about 30 percent nature and 70 percent nurture.|
|Innovation happens in the R&D lab||Innovation — something different that has impact — can happen anywhere in an organization. Everyone should be looking for new ways to solve old problems.|
|We will win with superior technology||Most market disruptions rest on innovative business models — new ways to create, capture, or deliver value|
|Innovation is all about improved performance||Sometimes innovation is about improving performance along traditional dimensions, but some of the most powerful disruptive innovations sacrifice raw performance in the name of accessibility or affordability.*|
|Our customers will be a critical source of innovation insight||Your customers might tell you how to make your current offering better, but they won’t point the way to disruptive growth; you have to explore new markets in new ways to identify new growth businesses.|
|Game changing innovation is done only by entrepreneurs||Many of the most exciting disruptions in recent years — such as GE’s low cost imaging solution and Cisco’s TelePresence solution — have come from big companies|
|We will win by targeting the biggest markets||Markets that don’t exist are difficult to precisely measure or analyze; the most powerful innovations create new markets.|
|Innovation requires big bets||As our friend Peter Sims writes in Little Bets, if you want to win big, you should start small.|
The couple of points that really stood out for me here is that there is an aspect of nuture involved in innovation and that it is something that can occur throughout the company, not just in the R&D lab. This suggests that it is certainly something a company can cultivate and can be driven by anyone across the business at any time. How can businesses use this to their advantage? There has been a recent proliferation of new titles in our industry involving innovation, Chief Innovation Officer, Director of Innovation and the list goes on. Whilst these may seem like invented positions to try to convey a sense that the company is innovative, I believe that companies need people on the fringe who push forward new thinking. This often means they isolate themselves from others resistant to change, being at the forefront can be a lonely place to be. People like this can really help to drive new thinking over time by stirring the pot and provoking discussion. More then this though, ensuring companies support people to pursue new ideas and realising that they can come from anyone at any time is crucial.
Further to this, from an environmental point of view, in an age of increasing connectivity within the company through digital technology, could this have a positive effect on innovation? This seems to be the case. I recently watch an interesting video by Stephen Johnson on Where Good Ideas Com From:
In it, he puts forward the concept of the “slow hunch”. This hypothesizes that most great ideas don’t come from a moment of great insight, but a slow building hunch that when combined with other peoples hunches creates a new concept or innovation. This suggests that digital technology allowing us to interact in real time with people quickly and easily to share ideas may have a positive effect on innovation. Twitter is a good example of this idea sharing in action, people all around the world collaborate around topics and share their ideas. Essentially being constantly connected creates faster feedback loops between people allowing ideas to bounce off each other at a faster rate.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in future as much like Moore’s, Kryder’s & Gilder’s laws see an increasing rate of change in technology, so to may this apply to the new ideas that spring from it.