Innovation baggage

Simply mentioning the word “innovation” can send people spinning.  Some picture iPhones, Amazon or disposable diapers.  While others might sigh as they envision colorful retreat spaces where people are lead through “frivolous creative” exercises to generate ideas for unnecessary stuff.  These perceptions aren’t bad.  But the fact that your team could have such varied visions of innovation can make it difficult to have effective discussions about innovation in your organization.

Demystifying innovation is a helpful step in engaging people in innovation. Creating a common description of what innovation is or could be helps to break down individual perceptions of innovation and create space for people to engage in a discussion of how you could utilize innovation in your organization.

Developing an agreed upon innovation description is useful place to start.  This can be as simple as adopting a published description, such as:

  • “Innovation is change that creates a new dimension of performance” ~Peter Drucker, The Drucker Institute
  •  “Innovation is the introduction of something new” ~ Merriam-Webster dictionary online
  •  “Innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulated needs, or existing market needs.” Wikipedia, December 3, 2013

Or developing a description that fits the vision and culture of your organization.

I use a fairly simple innovation description “creating a new value for stakeholders.”  I like this description as it addresses key points for innovation:

  1. You must actually create something, not just come up with ideas.
  2. You need to serve a stakeholder. You identify who the stakeholder is – staff, the organization, members, customers, partners, etc.
  3. You must generate value for the stakeholder. Something that is perceived by the stakeholder as valuable, not just your perception of the value offered.

The description is fairly easy for people to adapt to their personal situations, which makes them more inclined to engage.

In my first association innovation project we tried using an innovation description that in hindsight, was just too complicated “an intentional management process with its own distinct set of processes, practices and tools to search for, evaluate and implement a new way, a better answer or a previously unseen possibility.” I appreciate our intention and understand the reasoning, but the description was challenging to share and engage people around.  In associations we are often trying to engage, please and serve many audiences.  But, I encourage you to keep it simple.

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