Signs and symbols

Innovation is a definite buzzword these days. For the most part, companies are all in favor of doing it, and most, if not all, executives like the idea of being innovative. But, does everyone really understand what “Innovation” means? More specifically, do you know what innovation really means to you? Many readers, including some folks I’ve spoken to very recently, would respond very quickly with their definition of innovation, claiming their company believes in innovation and defines it the same way as they do. I would challenge that and note that if I asked 10 different executives at the same company how they define innovation, I would likely get 10 different answers. Okay, if not 10 different answers, maybe 8-9 different and 1-2 similar at best. Why? Partially due to the fact that each person has a unique perspective based on the three E’s: Expertise, Experience and the Expectations of their organization.

So, why is it hard to define? If you look up “Innovation” on Google, you will see “the action or process of innovating”. You’ll also see “a new idea, method, product or process” in some search results. Great, we’ve stated the obvious, but what does this mean to a company who is trying to be more innovative? This is where the definitions really become different and even divergent in many cases.

Given the basic definition noted above, it should be easy to start creating a culture where ideas can be generated, vetted and developed to provide your organization with new or improved products or services, right? Yeah, I laughed as well as I typed that sentence. Instead, let’s define innovation as “creating or redefining value”, at least for now.

Okay, so let’s talk about one more thing: not innovation culture (at least not in this post), but how to make innovation a bit more practical. Selling an idea to your management can be tough, right? Using the definition noted above, you know it’s going to create value, but have you defined this value such that the audience who you will be pitching the idea to can also see that value? Here are a few tips on developing the business case when you want to show the value the innovative idea will create:

  • Define the problem you are trying to fix. No, your boss telling you to come up with a new product is not the problem. Think about the end customer and what “itch” you are trying to “scratch” with this innovation.
  • Think tangible. Yes, we know it’s just an idea at this point, but thoughtfully explain how this innovation will create a better “future or experience” for both the customer and the company.
  • What’s the plan? You may not know the whole plan at this point, but use your experience and develop an approach to get the product through development, thinking about shortfalls, risk mitigation, etc. Help the audience visualize your idea and its potential value.
  • This one is tough for most idea generators because you likely have a lot of ideas, but don’t go after all of them at once. Think about all of the items above and the idea with the most value proposition and thoughtful story should come first.

Now we have a very simple outline to create a plan to pitch the idea. In that plan we also have an understanding of the value proposition related to this innovation. So, with all of that, can we now agree that innovation is, simply put: creating or redefining value?