Innovation is widely lauded as a universal panacea, but what does innovation really mean, and do you really know what building a culture of innovation truly entails? And before you start thinking, why roast beef or Sunday lunch? Read on!
Throughout much of the political uncertainty around the world today, one thing is clear is that all countries are striving for economic growth. As Solow’s Growth Model tells us, you can’t grow an economy without innovation, and so there is a focus on innovation wherever you look at the moment.
- A shared vision of creativity and innovation by China and Argentina will unleash opportunities for the two countries to strengthen ties – Shanghai Daily 
- We finally know what innovation can contribute to Australia’s economy: $215 billion, if unlocked – Business Insider Australia 
- Business Secretary announces that innovation which helps local businesses grow, will be a key component of the upcoming Industrial Strategy – Gov.uk 
These are just a few of the government announcements from the past month, and whilst many of these announcements are intended to drive economic growth, there have been similar suggestions that innovation can drive change in areas ranging from health to defence, finance to education. It’s very easy to regard innovation as the silver bullet for all of our problems.
And there’s nothing wrong in that.
Or rather, there is because the more you read into the reports the more you start to appreciate the way in which innovation is still being seen as synonymous with R&D, technical, IT or manufacturing development.
And there’s nothing wrong in that.
Except many of us don’t work in those relatively narrow fields, and so focusing on innovation in this way runs the risk of disenfranchising a vast number of people from the innovation ecosystem, in the process throwing away the potential for shaping a truly innovative future. To understand why, let’s start by having a look at what building a culture of innovation really means. In fact first, let’s go back one step further and look at invention.
Invention vs innovation
Invention, quite simply, is the process of introducing something new or different. In other words, it might be the logical next step on from something which is already in existence, it might be an entirely new or fresh idea which has been made possible thanks to technological developments or has come about simply because no one has thought of it before. And that’s it! There is nothing in the invention rulebook to say that it has to be useful or practical, and there’s nothing in the invention rulebook to say that people may even want it. They may do, and it may be taken up universally or it may languish on the ‘why-did-we-bother’ scrapheap, but hey, that’s what invention is all about.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating
Innovation on the other hand goes one step further. Things that are labelled ‘Innovations’ are so because they solve genuine problems, they add real value to the customer and they drive growth or some form of demonstrable return for the creator. An ‘innovation’ may well start out as an invention but doesn’t become ‘innovative’ unless it’s useful, affordable and doable. Useful as in it solves a genuine problem, affordable as in it’s accessible for the people who need it, and doable as in whoever has the solution can implement it and implement it really well! And whilst inventions tend to manifest themselves as physical or technical ‘things’, innovation can equally apply to concepts, approaches, experiences and business models.
Indeed, Deloitte highlight ten distinct forms of innovation in their eponymous recent book .
- Profit innovation, which looks (obviously) at how you earn money.
- Network innovation, which explores how you connect with partners and form a collaboration network.
- Structural innovation, and in particular how you organise your business, its assets and the talent both inside and outside it.
- Process innovation, and how you go about your work.
- Performance innovation, which explores the performance of your products and how they distinguish you from your competitors.
- System innovation, which looks at how your product or service sits within your portfolio. Can you compliment it with other products, for instance.
- Service innovation, which explores the way you support your product in the marketplace.
- Channel innovation, which explores the way your product is delivered to market.
- Brand innovation, looks at how your product is represented in the marketplace.
- Customer innovation, which looks at the various interactions you have with customers.
In fact, those looking to build a culture of innovation, whether at country or corporate level, have to be prepared to become what I call Next Generation Organisations’ where core capabilities of intelligence, collaboration and adaptability become a key pillars of the innovation strategy.
Investing in innovation
With this in mind let’s go back to the announcements about the way in which investment in innovation is going to transform organisations and countries. It may be a fault of the reporting but all too often the talk is about technology as the panacea rather than leveraging intelligence, collaboration and adaptability to become a Next Generation Organisation and deliver real solutions. It may be a step on from invention, invention plus if you like, but it certainly doesn’t deliver innovation.
To understand how, let me encourage you to think about Sunday lunch. The traditional British Sunday lunch may not be as universally practised nowadays as it was in the past but it still carries a unique resonance in our minds. But what makes it special? There is nothing particularly unique about roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. You can cook it any day of the week, you can even buy it ready-made and frozen from some supermarkets. But what turns a basic meal into something special is the way it is presented, the ambience, the chatter and interactions with family and friends, the bonding and the building of ties and loyalties. One is just sustenance, the other grows memories.
In the same way, what turns invention, or invention plus, into innovation is that special something which looks to shape a better future. And that takes strength and courage and the drive to deliver real solutions through collaboration, adaptability and a real desire to truly understand your current and future customers (intelligence). True innovation isn’t the preserve of the few in white lab coats; true innovation comes from enabling and empowering and drawing everyone in an organisation together with customers, suppliers and strategic partners.
Yes, building a culture of innovation may prove to be a near-universal panacea but only if world and organisational leaders are willing and able to lead truly innovative and collaborative cultures rather than throw millions of pounds in pursuit of developing enhanced widgets. Roast beef is consumed and forgotten; Sunday lunch shapes futures! If you don’t know what building a culture of innovation really takes then I suggest you find out before it is too late.
This article was written by Cris Beswick for The Future Shapers and previously posted on 24/11/2016.