Do you know how to Innovate?

Posted: October 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

InnovationI recently attended my works innovation state awards night. I think it’s great that any company both recognises the importance of employee led innovation and also that they take the time out to celebrate those innovations. The program has been running now for 4 years and has grown considerably in that time from one business unit to the entire company across all states. Brilliant! The “winners” in each state go onto the national awards to compete for the grand national awards. Last year the national champion was a talented guy from the trade marketing team who came up with Formula – an industry focused app for staff to learn to mix cocktails, brew a coffee plus more. A great way that a business can add value to another to another business!

Throughout the presentations it was great to see so many ideas from various area’s of the business that in some way helped the company along, whether that be in driving efficiency, providing value for our customer or even making sure employees are safe from occupational hazards.

All up I think it’s a great example of an innovation program succeeding.

It did however remind me of a thought I had a while ago, does your average employee know how to innovate? It’s a simple question but it talks to the heart of any innovation program. Do employee’s believe that an innovation is a bright spark that goes off while having a shower in the morning? Or perhaps they aren’t sure what the difference is between a true innovation and just “doing your job”? The latter is something I’m sure folks in IT or marketing have to think about given that in most cases they are often challenged with ways to makes things better!

But really – do you know how to innovate?

If you do – What processes do you use? Brainstorm? Mind Map? workshops?

The “lightbulb” moment is oftentimes perpetuated by urban legends. For instance, how many people actually believe that Isaac Newton had his defining thought when an apple fell on his head? Surely he would have had to have been pondering a related problem (even if) when that happened. And what about all those success stories we hear about entrepreneurs doing the zen thing and come back with great ideas? I’m sure some ideas appear like a lightning bolt but I’m even more sure that the majority of them appear after a huge amount of thinking, research and exploration. Hindsight is crystal clear and it’s easy to read these stories and think it was bound to happen.

Innovation becomes even murkier when tease apart incremental vs revolutionary ideas. Incremental is the small changes you make to an existing process or idea vs the game changers you often read about. So if you take someone else’s idea and make it better are you innovating? Taken to it’s extreme what’s the difference between creativity (making something new) and adaptation? Is anything truly new these days? Revolutionary makes headlines.

Tough questions that I’m not sure I have the answers to.Though I do know that before you embark on an enterprise innovation program you do need to have answers for them. When is an innovation above and beyond vs doing your job? To what level can you modify someone else’s idea and call it your own?

Does it really matter? Isn’t the purpose of an innovation program to excite employee’s to think outside the box and do things differently for the better of all?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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