As part of my auditing process, one of the key questions I ask is: what was the most recent innovation in your industry?
Depending on how this question is answered, it will tell me a few things:
- How this company both defines and perceives innovation
- If they are focused on innovation
- If they are keeping tabs on their respective industry
That question is followed up with a similar but less obvious question: who is the most loved in your industry and why?. This one tells me if they even care about delighting their customers. But it can also tell me if they associate customer loyalty with innovation.
Anyway, the point is that the initial question, “what was the most recent innovation in your industry?”, can be framed differently and thus result in a different answer. This may be the reason why so many innovative ideas fail to gain traction within companies.
It is very simple, if your company says that innovation is a strategic priority, but there are no “innovation breeding habits” on display, you will not innovate. Like many, you are just paying lip service to the word.
It is like strategy, if no one understands what the company’s strategy is, then all is lost.
For example, a company I visited recently told me that they would innovate by updating its website (my follow up question was “how exactly?” and no concrete answer was given). Tsk, tsk, tsk…If your company thinks that “updating its website” is innovative, good luck trying to do anything disruptive.
What this means, is that if your company’s employees hear that “we will continually delight our customers by updating our website”, they will be completely uninspired and confused because that statement can mean many things to different people.
The end result, is that if you are an employee and you pitch your idea as a “true innovation that challenges the established order”, it might get rejected because it means the company is taking on an untested and unproven idea.
In other words, if it doesn’t fit with the mental model of your leaders, it won’t get noticed.
Point: Whether you believe innovation is something new applied, an increment or whatever, the bottom line is your organization needs to come up with collective definition of what innovation means to you. Not your competitors or anyone else.
Concreteness is very important.
Personally, I believe that the best way to know that you are moving towards innovation, is to not talk about it and just put the innovation breeding habits to action.
A company that does this, in my opinion, is Zappos. I’ve never heard or read Zappos use the word innovation. Yet, they are considered an innovative company. Not because they create new technology, but because they’ve redefined how customer service is delivered.
See what I mean? I don’t think they followed a pre-determined definition of innovation and followed it to the T. Most likely they have a very specific set of criteria of what exactly they want to do and how.
There is focus and purpose behind their actions, which lead to enthusiasm because progress is being made. And that, is what you want to communicate.
Photo credit: Clarity