What is Innovation? A Survey – Article

You can download a PDF version of this here: What is Innovation? A Survey

What is Innovation? A Survey

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

The term innovation has really taken on a life of its own today. It’s pretty much everywhere you look – from almost every TV ad and company website to water-cooler talk and even presidential debate topics. Our founder, Chris Miller often jokes that innovation should have its own number on the stock exchange. It’s really turned into a hot topic not only in business, but in today’s culture itself.

With the term innovation being thrown around like it’s going out of style, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of what the term actually means. Many people who use the term regularly do not take the time to define what innovation means to them. They seem content just to say they’re innovative.

So what does innovation actually mean?

Merriam-Webster Online defines it as: “the introduction of something new” or “a new idea, method, or device.”

Wikipedia defines innovation as: “The term innovation may refer to both radical and incremental changes in thinking, in things, in processes or in services (Mckeown, 2008) Invention that gets out in to the world is innovation.”

Both are great starting definitions, but it feels like innovation is more then what is stated above. If it was that simple, why not just call it “new” and “changed”? Why throw the whole business world into a flurry? Why dedicate so much company time and energy to something as simple as “change” or “new”?

To find out, I surveyed the Innovation Focus staff. We’ve been in the innovation business for over 20 years, so I thought I might find a useful definition. Each person had a unique response from their perspective, and embellished on the simple definitions stated above:

“Innovation is the actualization of creative thought. In innovation we make the idea real. Creativity has a three step process… deep preparation and focus in area of expertise, exploration of irrelevant material and finally the connection back to the area of expertise… Innovation has a three step process as well: Discovery of the idea, Development of the idea, and finally Commercialization or implementation.”

“Innovation is the marriage of invention and creativity to produce practical applications.”

“Meaningful differentiation”

“In the broadest sense of the term, innovation means doing something (tangible or intangible) differently that results in improvements (tangible or intangible) that can be measured.” Also, “finding new and more meaningful ways to add/extract value that drops to the bottom line.”

“Innovation means positive change.”

“Innovation to me is connecting the dots differently than anyone else has thought to connect them. By doing so, different attributes, qualities or perspectives come into view that create opportunities that either did not exist before or were never visible. Seeing these opportunities and developing them faster and better than the competition allows the innovator to own the space and garner more of that opportunity.”

“Innovation to me can mean anything from the slightest most subtle improvement to a complete paradigm shift. When applied to the mundane processes of everyday life it can be nothing more than trying a new route to work or building a new Excel Macro (sorry my mind is always on systems). Sometimes things are better left alone and innovation comes from looking at it in a new way. Innovation lives and breathes and is always possible. The challenge comes in recognizing when we have found a truly new idea that can, with a little nurturing, fundamentally change the way we live and breathe.”

“Innovation is applied creativity, but so is invention. Perhaps the best way to answer “what is innovation?” is through the comparison of invention and innovation. The Patent and Trademark office defines patentability (invention) as something that is “novel”, “non-obvious” and “adequately described” (reduced to practice). Within this definition, an invention does not have to possess commercial value. For me, value is what defines innovation. The best definition for innovation I have come across is offered by the Chief Learning Officer of Goldman Sacs: “Innovation is fresh thinking that creates value”. This implies both a benefit and commercial potential. An innovation can be new to the world, new to the company, a line extension, product improvement, a re-positioning, and even a cost reduction. It should create value by: disrupting a market or industry and creating an entirely new one, creating a new position in the market, creating a new benefit, offering a new formula, create a new and useful technology, offer a way to enter a new market, provide a new way to sell or merchandize a product.”

As the variety of responses demonstrates, we believe innovation means more than something new or a change. To us, innovation means meaningful, differentiated change brought about by creativity that can be both small and game-changing.

Now I’d like to ask you, the Innovative Issues readers, what innovation means to you? Does your perception of innovation differ from ours? Is it the same? How so? You’re around innovation on a daily basis. Has this changed your view of it?

What Makes A Project Go Well – A Survey – Article

You can download a PDF version of this article here: What Makes A Project Go Well – A Survey

What Makes A Project Go Well – A Survey

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

Like most of your jobs, the business world of Innovation Focus is comprised of projects – ethnography projects, ideation projects, naming projects, sales projects, internal marketing projects, buying-the-owner-lunch projects…the list goes on and on. Sure, your projects aren’t exactly like the ones we do, but a project is a project; they all contain similar elements, constraints and challenges that we all encounter.

Sometimes those projects go well, and sometimes they bomb catastrophically. It’s usually very easy to identify why a project doesn’t go well. Not enough attention is paid to the aspects of a project that made it go off without a hitch.

I asked my fellow co-workers to call upon their experience in project work and answer this question: What makes a project go well? I wondered if the different experience levels in the wide range of projects we do would influence their responses.

Much to my surprise, the answers were pretty consistent. Clear objectives, good communication among team members and clients, and planning the project well are the clear-cut winners in what Innovation Focus thinks makes a project go well.

The responses are listed below. As you can see, the common theme is very much apparent:

“When there is a well-planned timeline and all team members stick to it.”

“The most important aspect of any project is communication. Yes, you will need all the right people, resources, and knowledge to see the project through to completion, but all of those assets cannot be brought together without great communication. For me, this always meant frequent, open communication with my clients and co-workers. Even small details, such as choosing a font for the final deliverable, might be important to some clients. It’s best to always let them know what stage of the process is being worked on, and give them ample opportunity to be involved and a part of the process. …it’s definitely a philosophy/way of doing business that has worked well for me in the past.”

“Clear project objectives and plan. Good clients – cooperative, involved, good attitudes, get back to you in a timely manner and are clear about what they want at the beginning of the project. They are also flexible and willing to respond to new opportunities. Organizational support for the project; organizational honesty, clear on what they can and can not do. Many will say they want a disruptive innovation project but really they only want incremental improvement.”

“Clear objectives supported by strong communication to ensure united team effort.”

“Projects are successful when there is enthusiasm and alignment about the objectives and methodology. Clear and constant communication among the team members with the team leader reinforcing roles and responsibilities is paramount. Even more important, though, is the power of doing meaningful work with a team that is inspired. Ya gotta believe in what you are doing to do it well.”

“For me, it’s planning and communication. Planning and communication between the project manager, the captain and the client gives a clear expectation of what the expected outcome and deliverables of the project will be to all the parties involved in the project. That knowledge when taken to me as a producer in a timely fashion provides the easiest production of the final deliverables as well as the ability to see potential problems that might occur down the road, and the time to address those issues. With adequate planning and communication between all parties any project can go well.”

“Clear goals, timing, and communication established with clients and the internal team make a project more likely to succeed. I find that when the internal team, in particular, are clear about objectives and timeframes, we are more likely to have cooperative and collaborative teamwork. For most projects, teamwork is primary even if most of the “team” is in a supportive or consultative role. For the client, we are more likely to achieve the end goals if we communicate steps along the way to minimize surprise, adjust the design when necessary, and check to see that the client is satisfied with the progress.”

“From my experience, the key to project success is preparation, preparation, preparation! Rarely will a project go from project kick-off to project close exactly as planned, without any bumps in the road. This can be very stressful for the team, especially in the field where resources are limited and tend to be unfamiliar. Being prepared for the unexpected will make all of the difference, and will ensure that the project goes well!”

“One of the key requirements for an innovation initiative to make it to market (go well) is the right team leadership. Innovation initiatives are different than the normal business projects and require different ways of leading, working, and implementing. Innovation is fundamentally about creating new knowledge and new ways of acting on it. This requires team leadership that can organize, mobilize, and franchise a project at all stages and across all functions and levels in an organization. It is absolutely essential to have team leadership that knows how to work with both the personal and organizational dynamics of innovation.”

“Collaboration is the key to making a project go well. When a client and a researcher work together through processes of planning, conducting fieldwork, analysis, report writing and dissemination, I realize that I have not only buy-in but ownership by the client of the research process. The synergy of working together with your client produces a satisfying experience and makes the project go well.”

As you can see, while they’re not the only factors, clear objectives, good communication among team members and clients, and high-quality planning are definitely key elements in what we feel make a project go well.

And now I throw the question to you, the faithful readers of Innovative Issues. What makes a project go well? Do you agree with us? Did we miss something? Is your experience with your projects unique and require something that isn’t listed here?

I want to hear from you. I will gather responses for the next month or so, and post a follow up article to this with those responses. If you’d like to participate, please send your response here.