What’s Your Innovation Definition?

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So many organizations set out to innovate, but lose their way close to the finish line. All of the time, money, and energy invested loom over them like an ominous shadow of failure ready to overtake the whole scene.

What happened? There was so much momentum, good will, collaboration, and then—the painful, public crash into the wall.

What is this wall? The revenue expectations of the business may not have been formally expressed on the front end. Pressure builds. You see it on the faces of coworkers in the hallways. Things tighten up. The market has shifted. Competitors have gained ground. All longer-term projects need to shorten their cycle or cease.

The scenario above happened at many companies, and in departments at companies, as they started their long journey to make innovation a formal discipline.

A lot of tension gets created; and, if harnessed correctly, it can be useful, creative tension. It would be a mistake and inauthentic for any organization to try and create rigid tools, processes, metrics, and even a definition for innovation without having experienced some of its transformative power first-hand.

If you are trying a new work mode, outside of the existing paradigm, think of the first trial or two as a learning investment. You may stumble upon revenue or insights that lead to giant leaps of both money and inspiration; however, embrace this tension at the right moment. You have arrived. Now is the right time to begin discussing a befitting innovation definition for your organization.

Do it too prematurely and you risk a bad fit, which ends up worse than a bloated software implementation that no one adopts after spending too much money and time on it.

Do it too late and you lack the formal constraints to drive meaningful business results or cultural changes.

When you are ready to have a filter to sift innovation, consider drafting a formal definition. While it is easy to draft an MBA-like set of Innovation criteria to please executives, this may not be the curative needed to catalyze your organization.

The starter set of a definition, the baseline, contains these three points. Must be own-able. Must create a sustainable competitive advantage. Must be based on new market insights.

Yet, there is a problem with this general prescription. If you already suffer from a cultural bias, the baseline may only inflate an already chronic tendency.

Consider a company that jumps with an engineering solution to every synapse in their industry then sees their development costs rise while adding only flat or negative growth for years. Also, the firm may be damaging their brand equity Adding a tenet to a definition of innovation such as “must create an irresistible product experience” could cure a world of ills.

There are many types of tonics for similar problems that can be embedded into an innovation definition. The point: live in it and create a custom definition for your organization.