Innovation is a popular word in today’s business world. In order to stand out from competition or be more profitable, the typical managerial response is something along the lines of improving the quality and amount of innovation, or in some cases, beginning to innovate. But is all of this focus on innovation a good thing for business? Can an organization flip the innovation switch and be just that, innovative? Or is it just a heaping helping of hype and hindrance with a side-order of hope? Short answer: It’s something else entirely.
Like most over-used words in public vocabulary, we have a good idea of what they mean but occasionally misuse them in proper context. That leads me to the question, what does innovation really mean? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, innovation is “1: the introduction of something new 2: a new idea, method, or device.” Innovation is something new.
Innovation is Subjective
The interesting thing about innovation is that it’s highly subjective. What’s new to one business is not necessarily new to others, so can “the new” still be innovative? Absolutely!
Further, business processes and procedures can be built upon that new “idea, method, or device” and produce better products and services for customers and employees. Much like a nuclear chain reaction or an avalanche, innovation builds upon existing innovation, internal and external to businesses, potentially creating a massive situation that alters existence.
Take Apple’s iPhone. Without a myriad of technologies and innovations, the innovation of the iPhone would not exist. Plastics, display technology, circuit design, programming, graphic design, electronics and batteries. A short list of many innovations that allow the iPhone to continue changing the way people use their mobile devices.
Innovation is Collaborative
It’s hard to be innovative by yourself. Yes, ideas develop, hunches form, and theories gel in the brains of individuals, but magic happens when those ideas are shared in a group setting. Connections are created, the circuits of creativity are completed–new ideas develop and form.
So, let’s schedule an innovation meeting and share our individual ideas. That’s how it works, right? Not so fast. First and foremost, people must be willing to share their ideas. Is sharing a part of your corporate culture or are people protective and defensive? Second, people need a safe and trusted forum for sharing and discussing ideas. Is a meeting where people are put on the spot to share their ideas the best way for your company to begin the process of innovation or are there other ways?
Enter IdeaJam.net, a cloud-based idea and innovation management service, which enables the internal sharing of ideas as well as provides tools to rate, comment, promote or demote in order to find the best. It creates a trusted, secure and simple way to generate a lot of new ideas, see what employees think about a specific idea or even see how it could be implemented or fleshed out in more detail. A lot of potential for establishing a foundation of innovation: an abundance of ideas.
However, with an abundance of ideas, organizations still need people to analyze the ideas, connect similar ideas and build a network of innovation. It sounds a little overwhelming, but innovation takes a lot of time. It’s not a switch you flip on for instantaneous results.
Innovation Takes Time
In Steven Johnson’s book on innovation, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History Of Innovation, he devotes a whole chapter to the idea of “The Slow Hunch” and that “world-changing ideas” are rarely the result of quick decisions. He writes:
“Most hunches that turn into important innovations unfold over much longer time frames. They start with a vague, hard-to-describe sense that there’s an interesting solution to a problem that hasn’t yet been proposed, and they linger in the shadows of the mind, sometimes for decades, assembling new connections and gaining strength.”
Johnson tells stories of how long it took Charles Darwin (evolution of life), John Locke (indexing system for commonplace books), and Tim Berners-Lee (World Wide Web) to make the necessary connections in order to flesh out and communicate their individual, life-altering innovations. For most of them it took years, even decades, but the time spent was worth it. If Berners-Lee had not brought his innovative ideas to fruition, you might not be reading this blog post right now.
Innovation is One of Many Core Business Values
It’s important that organizational leaders realize that innovation is just one of many core business values. It should never take the place of sound business decisions, treating employees fairly and with respect, and being ethical.
Innovation can bring “something new” to each business, even to the individuals that make up an organization. However, it is important to remember that innovation is finely-tuned to the culture of your organization; it thrives on collaboration, sharing and connecting; and it takes a long time to generate and create “world-changing” ideas.