What is the purpose of innovation?

innovation on purpose

This question may be similar to the question “what is innovation?“, but it isn’t.

Why innovate?

Before answering, lets consider what innovation is. Two weeks ago I argued that because innovation means different things to different groups, that you should come up with your own definition of what innovation is.

For me, innovation is ideas transformed into value. I don’t get into whether it’s radical, incremental, disruptive or any other buzzword you can come up with because it makes it more complex for those who are not in the know.

With that said, if innovation is ideas transformed into value, then the purpose of innovation is to create value. Too simple? Maybe it is. But again, I think keeping things as simple as possible is key.

With that in mind, we can then start by defining value. Again, value means different things to different people. And here, is where it gets interesting because we are talking about an organizations value proposition. And, when we talk about innovation, we are talking about a different value proposition than that of what currently exists. This is when change really happens because you are changing the value proposition. Not the technology, not the branding, but everything that supports your value proposition.

So, coming full circle. What you need to do is define a set of criteria of how you will define that new value that you will create.

Using Zappos as an example, I doubt Tony Hsieh drew up a strategic plan on how to differentiate Zappos from others. My guess is he thought about how Zappos could create a different kind of value putting customer service at is center, and therefore enriched its value proposition by focusing on delivering exceptional customer service.

See what I mean? Less vague and more focused. Of course, I’m assuming. But, it doesn’t mean the same thing as these vague and copycat statements:

The purpose of innovation is…

  • “not simply to build something new, but to win new customers, new markets, or new products.”
  • “to solve a customer problem.”
  • “to be different but also better.”
  • “to make the world a better place.”
  • “to be relevant.”

These are all good and well but what is missing there is the all-powerful and concrete “HOW”. And, because it is very difficult to be concrete, this is where most efforts die. It is easier to copy the other guy instead of thinking for yourself.

If this makes your head spin, you are not alone. Hopefully I’ve helped you think about innovation differently.

Point: Ultimately, just like your business strategy, your innovation strategy needs to be focused. It can’t be all things to all people. It must be able to stand on its own.

Now, I would love to know what you think. What is the purpose of innovation? I look forward to your thoughts…

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Also published on Medium.