Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Innovation - Food for thought

If you search Amazon for "Innovation," you'll get over 43,000 book titles with many more ebooks and blog articles scattered around the Internet, many of which I am responsible for. So what are these volumes all about and why so many for such a simple word - Innovation?

The challenge starts with the definition of innovation. Most of the definitions I've seen are overly complicated and do nothing other than help persuade the man in the street that Innovation is too complicated and should be left well alone. It can be made complicated but need not be.

The founder of the low cost airline JetBlue said "Innovation is trying to figure out a way to do something better than it's ever been done before". And Thomas Edison's said "There's a way to do it better-find it". Which just about covers it all.

So far, so good. Our high level definition opens up innovation, and makes it accessible, regardless of industry sector or function. Let us move on to some basic principles, what I call the Three Pillars of Innovation:
  1. Ingenuity. Ingenuity is human creativity plus application, idea plus execution. Ideas on their own are invention and execution is simply working harder not smarter. We need both.
  2. Perfection. Imperfection is what drives innovation, because nothing's perfect. Perfection is a pursuit, a journey, not a destination. The destination is a place called "Better." We may have to know when to call it a day and move on to our next challenge as we can never actually attain perfection.
  3. Fit. Any innovation has to fit with your customers, market and expertise. There is no point creating something just for the sake of it. Or to put it another way, if you have the best mousetrap that the world has ever seen, you must have a really big issue with mice!
There has to be some element of each of the above for an Innovation to be successful. The big challenge for businesses is to ensure adherence to these key principles on a daily basis.

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