People view the meaning of innovation differently. A colleague of mine says innovation is equivalent to creativity. Another friend thinks innovation means developing a specific and particular consumer good. Others say that innovation is the same as invention.
Innovation is all these things but also something more, and perhaps, something less. Corporate innovation involves a repeatable and systematic approach to developing and deploying technologies to deliver value to the customer and profit to the organization. Customers do not purchase products or services unless they need (or want) them. Companies must only manufacture products and provide services that create profit for them. This is the spirit of innovation.
A Systematic Approach
Inventions are patentable but you might also invent something new and never share it with another person. Great chefs invent new creations in their kitchens every day. Fitness instructors invent new moves and routines. In my hobby, I invent new greeting card designs every time I sit down in my craft room. Yet none of these inventions meet the definition of an innovation because they are one-off, individual creations.
Innovation is a systematic approach to designing and developing sustainable products and services. Products and services fill a need for customers. While the chef’s tasty meal hopefully provides nutrition, it does not mean the next meal will also be tasty and nutritious. My family exclaims delight in receiving my greeting cards but the next one might be smeared and ugly.
Systematic approaches to corporate innovation include a set of best practices applied to the organization’s strategic goals. Companies within the same industry have different strategies, and therefore, different approaches to innovation. The chosen innovation framework for new product development (NPD) must also reflect the organization’s culture and philosophy.
Innovation also differs from invention by having a customer-centric orientation. The chef adding ingredients and spices to soup is doing what he thinks will taste good. I create greeting cards that I think are cute. These are self-centered outcomes while innovation focuses on customer intent.
Companies that are most successful with repeated innovation — think Procter and Gamble or Apple — use customer insights to drive technology development. All successful innovators first identify customer needs and wants before designing product, service, or applications. It is impossible to force a set of features onto a customer and to make a profit at the same time. Customers only pay for necessities and what they value.
Finally, the spirit of innovation starts and ends with engaged employees. Strategies and systems are great, but somebody has to do the required work. Understanding customer needs is a first step you have to incorporate those requirements into a product to be successful. Doing the short-term and long-term work of innovation is the responsibility of employees and staff.
Productive innovation teams are engaged with the mission of the organization and buy into the project goals. Management gives these teams freedom to operate and to make decisions within a set of guardrails established by the strategy and mission. Individuals and teams are rewarded for their collective work and share in returns from successful product launches. Employees are presented with lifelong opportunities to learn new skills and are recognized for knowledge and accomplishments (regardless of age, degree, or other categorizations).
Creating an Innovative Spirit
How do you foster the spirit of innovation at your firm? First, recognize the difference between innovation and invention. Innovation is a systematic, profit-driven approach to meeting customer needs. It is customer-centric since your end-users only pay for what they need and what they value. Finally, you must provide autonomy to new product development teams to engage and empower employees for innovation.
Companies with a spirit of innovation are easy to recognize. The staff smile a lot and consumers praise their products and services. You cannot fake the spirit of innovation, but you can learn how to do it right! Join me on 30 April 2020 at 1:00 pm CDT (2:00 pm EDT, 11:00 am PDT) for a free webinar on the 20 Tips of Innovation and you will learn how to create a Spirit of Innovation in your organization, too. You can also read the full approach to learning, adopting, transforming, and sustaining innovation in The Innovation ANSWER Book available at Amazon.
I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is an experienced professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or area code 281 + phone 787–3979 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.
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