The basic premise of innovation in most organizations happens to be development of something new. A new methodology, a new product, a new service, a new framework or in some cases, a new idea.
While this is not entirely untrue, I happen to observe a large number of organizations innovate for the sake of innovation. One of the following methods prevail in the process:
1. The next buzzword: This is the ‘easy way out’ innovation strategy. One tracks the latest concept in the market and repackages, repositions or redesigns the offering around that concept.
2. The “Ideate” room: I loved the ideate room ad from IBM. It captures the essence of this point so perfectly. The Ideate room points to organizations who put a lot of effort and money into trying to come up with new ideas. Many a time, this translates to free pizza, coffee and no targets for a lot of ‘ideators’. The trouble is there is too much focus on the peripheral infrastructure and enablers for innovation and not the innovation process itself.
3. Noisemaking: A large number of organizations make a lot of noise about every new concept they come up with, without figuring out how they would implement or develop the idea or concept. So all the time you’re bombarded with messages like “we’re doing this”, “we’re offering cutting edge, state of the art, bleeding edge, <insert your favourite phrase here> solutions”. This is like crying wolf too many times. Sooner or later, listeners tend to switch off to your noise.
So what does it take to deliver real innovation? The answer might sound clichéd. While a good idea, product or service is extremely important in the innovation process, the main parameter that defines and separates success and failure is…
There are generally two aspects to innovation. I like to call them the inner and the outer.
Inner: The inner aspect deals specifically with the WHAT and the HOW. What is the innovation that one wants to develop? And How does one develop the innovation? Innovation is not always doing something new. It can also encompass doing something differently, more effectively or just more simply. Also there are ‘n’ number of ideas that will turn up if asked to brainstorm, but if there is no solid process to sort, classify, test and debate new ideas, then most innovation would tend to be based on whims, buzzwords and fads.
Outer: The outer aspect deals with the WHO and WHERE. Who are we innovating for? And Where do we want this innovation to have an impact? This aspect is all about having a focussed audience for the innovation and for the innovation to be meaningful. After all, no one wants to innovate for the sake of innovating. If the innovation does not make meaning for and does not significantly impact an audience, then the viability of the innovation exercise is questionable.
Most organizations who complain that they are not innovative enough, specifically suffer from too much concentration on one of the two aspects or alternatively, too little concentration on both of them. Too much focus on the inner causes organizations to be too caught up with refining and hammering out details than working on being innovative and being meaningful. Too much focus on the outer causes organizations to make a lot of noise and fluff without concentrating on execution and delivery of ideas. Either approach tends to be dangerous. The best way is to have a rounded approach, looking at both the inner and outer aspects of the innovation process.