Innovation's Litmus Test

Everyone wants Innovation. Few want change.

I’ve always found this odd. How is it that there are people seeking innovation, but not its direct outcome? Change is an inevitable result of innovation. You design products, services and processes that yield new value. As a result, a change in behavior or the way you interact with these products and services occurs. That’s natural.

Design > Innovation > Change

Your company seeks innovation. But is it ready for change? Does it want that change? Or are you tossing in the word innovation in your company communications, labeling everything you do as innovation, and holding innovation workshops to just stick post-its on a board?

Let’s get real. You think that that doesn’t describe your company. Oh no. We are innovating. We are creating new value in new ways, like you told us. That’s great. You are innovating. But why? For what purpose? What is that change that you seek?

Innovation is just a means of attaining an outcome. You need to define that outcome. Some consultants call that Innovation Strategy. It is a statement of intent, usually correlating with a trend in the market, of where you want your company to go. But in an effort to not fluff up a 50-page document and charge you a lump sum for it, start here:

Acknowledge where you are. Decide where you want to be (Change). Now innovate towards it.

Let’s look at some companies that are particularly good at this.

Tesla was founded as an electric car automaker. The change it proposed was clear: The current auto industry runs on gasoline. We will run on electric-powered vehicles. Uber was founded as a transportation service based on a shared-economy model. The change was clear: we are changing the basis of transportation. General electric proposed a shift based on a statement of change as well. Jeff Immelt, General Electric’s CEO, immaculately displayed this during GE’s third Minds + Machines Summit (2014),

"If you went to bed last night as an industrial company. You’re going to wake up in the morning as a software and analytics company."

(I would’ve dropped the mic after that If I were him. He didn’t, in case you were wondering).

Notice that in the examples mentioned above, defining the change preceded the designed innovations (Tesla’s Model S, Uber’s app and General Electric’s Predix).

A statement of change is concrete. Concise. To the point. We are here (industrial company), we’re going there (Software and analytics company). I would rally behind that statement. Notice that there is no mention of the word “innovation” because there need not be.

Let’s look at how your company might be approaching its innovation efforts:

"Innovation is the new way forward. We look to find new ways to stay agile in the market and create more value for our stakeholders."

A statement of innovation is abstract. Fluff. Vague. We were doing something (operational excellence, six sigma practices) and we want to start doing another thing (innovation). Why? For what reason? That’s a statement I would not rally behind.

Make sure that you understand the inevitable change that results from innovation. Accept and seek it. Decide where your company wants to go (For help, read Trend-Driven Innovation), and have a purpose for your innovation efforts.

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