What’s All the Fuss About Innovation?

Why are there so many posts about innovation? Perhaps it is due to the new year. Or maybe even because it is touted as the answer to rebooting the economy. Or maybe it is because we don’t understand innovation. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in Nine Rules For Stifling Innovation, sums up the fuss,

Innovation has become the holy grail. Finding innovation is almost a sacred quest for the solution that will create growth, and open new eras of prosperity and well-being.
Unfortunately, like many things called holy, the concept of innovation is invoked ritually and ceremonially more than it is embraced in practice.

Basic definition

According to BusinessDictionary.com, the definition of innovation is “the process of translating an idea or invention to a good or service that creates value for which customers will pay.”

Join us for the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, January 18, 2013 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT and discuss what we make such a fuss about innovation. Not sure how to participate? Please click here for tips and advice.

The $1,000,000 (approximately €748,223) question

It isn’t ideas or inventions. There are plenty of those but as Apple has demonstrated repeatedly, the process of translation determines whether they are defined as innovative or not.

What makes this process of translation so difficult?

So much attention would not be placed on innovation if it was a clear process.  Innovation has a quicksilver quality. Companies want to be seen as innovative because it provides a certain cachet. As in, “look at us, we’re cutting edge, industry leaders, not like the pack.”

Lack of comprehension-Jeff DeGraff in a Fortune/CNN Money post states that “you don’t know what makes the game of innovation so different from everything else you do at work — and you haven’t adjusted your playbook to accommodate these differences.”

In a recent #KaizenBiz conversation, we noted that big data is being used to drive innovation. But DeGraff points out that we might have data that really doesn’t describe what is actually going on. In essence, product and service designers have to ask questions like, “is it a fluke? Can you tell a story about it? What are the specific dynamics in this situation?”  You could easily put out a product that you think is revolutionary and it falls flat because something else was occurring simultaneously.

Perhaps what is missing here is that innovation is more art than science, even with reams of data to aid the process.

Tolerance for failure-Both DeGraff and Moss Kanter mention failure in their posts. Sure, failure is obviously part of the innovative process. Many ideas that work great on paper…totally bomb in real life. People leading companies engaged in innovation all have different levels of tolerance. A focus on efficiency and lean practices can handicap the process. But it is more than simply how money is allocated to experimentation. The degree to which people in the organization are willing to learn and not assume can affect how innovation is managed.

Storytelling-Innovation has become an archetype. People look at large organizations like Virgin or Apple and see how they transformed our mindset and behavior. This is how legends are born. Then, we look at ourselves and believe that we have to create THE PRODUCT or THE SERVICE. The ways we describe the hero/heroine, the action, the results and any other parts of the story can make innovation seem more like alchemy.

Other obstacles such as how competition is managed, going public, only allowing a select few to be designated as innovators may play a role.

So what is the fuss about?

Many businesses are successful because they are skilled at tweaking a design in a way that consumers want. No innovation here, but there is still creativity. Translating the process is messy, frequently indirect and collaborative. The fuss may be more about the pressure to be unique rather than trusting ourselves to explore, play and create.

How do you know when something is innovative?

What are the stories do you hear or tell about innovation?

What parameters do you believe are prudent and still support process of innovation?

What drives the pressure for all businesses to be innovative & is this in their best interest?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth and small business coach/trainer, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding in your own backyard or into another country, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.