Is Your Definition of Innovation Useful?

Everywhere you look, companies are saying they need to innovate to remain competitive. You’ll hear a lot of executives say they need to “focus on innovation” or “prioritize innovation”. Have you ever asked yourself what they mean by innovation?  Companies define innovation differently, or not at all. One of the most important things you can do before having an innovation initiative is to define it.

Defining Innovation

I know what you’re thinking, “Great, another piece of corporate jargon that I have to memorize”. You’ve already struggled to learn your company’s mission statement that probably sounds something very similar to this one I created from the automated Corporate Mission Statement Generator

Our business is dedicated to helping the full range of our personal gain from dedication to personal goals at all levels

Don’t worry, the process of defining innovation will actually be much more useful than any Corporate Mission Statement. Innovation definition doesn’t have to be difficult, but it can really set up what you’re going to get out of it. Your definition might be:

Innovation = an idea turned into a product

You can see that you might not be creating groundbreaking products with this definition. It could be a bad idea turned into a product, or a just an OK idea turned into a product. If you don’t have a definition of innovation at all, this can become the de facto definition. Compare that definition with the following:

Innovation = Creating a new to the market/new to the world products that not only beats the best in class, but makes them irrelevant.

Having the above definition will set you up for discovery that’s not merely incremental innovation. Your 30% faster doesn’t become 40% faster with this definition. It becomes instantaneous. Your 50% stronger doesn’t become 60% stronger. It becomes unbreakable. Your 20% less doesn’t become 30% less. It becomes zero.

Next Step to Innovate

Once you have a definition for innovation, make sure the entire organization from top to bottom understands it. Misalignment can cause problems. If the top of the organization thinks it’s the first definition and R&D thinks it’s the second definition, they aren’t going to be ready for a big innovation when it gets discovered because it will sound too “out there”. If the top thinks it’s the second definition and R&D thinks it’s the first, they are going to wonder why they are spending money on innovation when all that’s delivered are things 1% or 5% better than last year.

If you’re serious about innovating, define it, align it, and then design it. And when you do it, be sure to let me know how you change the world!

Chris Boone is a forward thinking cosmetic chemist (and zymurgist) who is focused on innovation. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

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