Friday, March 18, 2011

Understanding Innovation

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Innovation is considered to be one of the most defining characteristics of a successful organisation. From an individual perspective, the capacity to be innovative defines your employability.

So what is innovation?

In simple terms innovation is the ability to take something, and to place it with something different in a way that provides some form of value.

For example, the classic paper bag and gift wrapping paper existed separately for 100 years. Then, one day, they were put together and the Gift Bag was born. On many levels this is an example of linear or incremental innovation. After all, both wrapping paper and the classic paper bag were both made of paper.

The Sony Walkman of the 1980s is another, non-linear outcome of taking something and placing it with something different. This time it was adding a music player to the concept of portability.

In many ways the iPod is an incremental innovation that evolved from the original Walkman. Yet it is also an example of non-linear innovation. In this example the portable music player was added to a computer and the internet and the iPod was born.

So how do you develop the capacity to innovate? Practice.

Each time you confront a problem or a challenge ask yourself what two or more things could I put together to solve this problem or just add value to my present circumstance?

While non-linear innovation is regarded as the step-change or game-breaking type of innovation, incremental innovation is also valuable. Conscious practice of innovation is what builds its capacity. How often are you and/or your organisation practicing it?

If you're looking for something to read on this topic, it is still pretty hard to go past Gary Hamel's book Leading The Revolution.


  1. A truly innovative company will have a leadership role created for Innovation & Integration. Innovation, no matter how worthy in its own right, will ultimately fail if it can't be harmoniously integrated into the DNA of the organisation. This applies to new technology, as well as new work practices.

  2. Thanks David,

    Yes integrating innovation into a companies DNA is critical if it is to have a real presence in an organisation. I also like your suggested leadership role to be created for Innovation & Integration, especially in the early part of the journey. Over time the role probably should change else the organisation could be at risk of behaving in a way that indicates, "Innovation is the job of the Innovation Leader" which defeats the purpose of the role. The same is true for Customer Service Manager, HR Manager roles and so on...

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