Defining What You Mean By Innovation is the Way To Win

Many firms attempt to get innovative without actually defining what they mean when they use the term “innovation”. In fact, you’d be surprised at the number of innovation teams I’ve spoken to who can’t articulate what they mean by “innovation”. Then, they spend time trying to work out why their efforts seem to be ignored by their managers and stakeholders.

If you dare to utter the word “innovation” in a meeting (or, if you even more ambitious), you ask for a definition of the word, you will likely find getting to any kind of consensus is impossible. Everyone has a very personal idea of what innovation should or should not be. It is often very difficult to shake such strongly held beliefs, especially if they feel a prospective innovation programme will venture onto their turf.

I’ve seen arguments on this topic go over the same ground for so long that sooner or later someone almost always suggests “we don’t need a definition, so let’s get on with it”. This is a mistake.

Multiple divergent opinions on what you’re trying to achieve in an innovation programme almost always leads to a situation where nothing is achieved at all.

Successful innovation teams sign up for a definition that lets them look at things in the broadest way possible, but which isn’t excessively threatening to established business lines. In my own programmes, we’ve successfully used the following:

Innovation is “anything that wouldn’t have been achieved through ordinary business-as-usual processes”.

This definition doesn’t make any prescriptions on either volume or scale of innovation that might be undertaken. The team is free to do anything at all which isn’t already in progress elsewhere.

It is a good balance between having flexibility, and ensuring potentially affected stakeholders don’t sabotage the innovation programme before it even starts