Innovation Is a Discipline, Not a Cliché
You can set your watch to it. About every six months an article appears arguing that innovation is an overused term, with corporate fatigue auguring a “back to basics” approach focused on less sexy but important tasks of execution, strategy, and so on.
The latest salvo was a much discussed Wall Street Journal article carrying the provocative title, “You Call That Innovation?” The article had choice lines such as “like the once ubiquitous buzzwords ‘synergy’ and ‘optimization,’ innovation is in danger of becoming a cliché — if it isn’t one already.”
No doubt the term innovation is bankrupt at some companies, particularly those that throw the word around without defining it clearly. The Little Black Book of Innovation offers a simple, five-word definition: “Something different that has impact.” This intentionally broad definition helps to disarm three common misconceptions.
The first misconception is that innovation and creativity are the same things. Companies that fall into this trap think that the best way to solve the innovation problem is to bring in a wide range of right-brained thinkers, put them in a room, and ask them think of awesome ideas. There is no doubt that awesome ideas serve as an important input that can lead to impact, but if companies stop at idea-generation, they are destined to suffer disappointing results. As The Little Black Book notes, “Innovation is a process that combines discovering an opportunity, blueprinting an idea to seize that opportunity, and implementing that idea to achieve results. Remember — no impact, no innovation.”
The second misconception is that only a select group of people should drive a company’s innovation activities. People often think that innovation lives in labs, and it is done by white-lab-coated scientists. But everyone in an organization should think about doing something different that has impact. Not all innovations come in the same flavor, of course. The Wall Street Journal article noted that Innosight founder Clayton Christensen favors three categories of innovation: efficiency (doing the same thing faster or cheaper), sustaining (making current solutions better), disruptive (transforming complicated solutions into simple, accessible, affordable ones). It is also helpful to think about different “levers” for innovation, which can range from new internal processes to integrated business models.
Scott D. Anthony is managing director of Innosight Asia-Pacific.