Innovations – hype, a mantra, or fashion

A mystery

What is innovation? Is it an improvement, a further development of the product? Is it an extra button? A new colour?  Or something impossible? To encourage innovative thinking we need to inspire action and at least in some cases, swim against the tide.

The pitfall that many for us step into when trying to be “innovative” is that we often have no idea what innovation is. We often start enthusiastically with attending an innovation forum, and courses in “Creative Thinking”. Many companies train their own facilitators for brainstorming sessions. Yet disappointments often follow from using any of the mentioned strategies. Innovation remains a mystery to many of us despite our search for knowledge. How can we learn to develop skills to nurture innovation?

An innovation delivers value for the customer and the supplier

Edward de Bono gives a good definition of an innovation. An innovation is an implementation of an idea that generates value for the customer and the supplier. It begins with a new idea, and a new idea. And this is the good part – it is a breakthrough of standard thinking.

The idea is no longer something “more-of-the-same”. A jacket in a new fabric is not an innovation. A jacket made of different fabrics and a asymmetrical design, is a breakthrough of standard views on a jacket. And according to de Bono’s view this is innovative.

An innovation is the radical removal of contradictions

Heinrich Altshuller (TRIZ) goes even further. An innovation is the radical removal of a contradiction, an unbridgeable gap. A vacuum cleaner is either powerful and consumes much energy or has a low suction and low power consumption. Standard (engineering) thinking is to find an optimum: maximum suction power with minimal energy consumption. This leads to a compromise, which is not very innovative. A real innovation would be a vacuum cleaner that is very powerful and consumes no energy at all. Another innovative idea is to have soilless vegetable planting. This idea breaks our common way of planting plants in soil. As for the jacket, well a radical removal of old ideas is to make an electrical jacket.

Companies will have to define what an innovation is. How otherwise would they decide on ideas that enthusiastic staff put forward for implementation?

Ideas that are not aligned to a company’s visions and goals are a waste of time and resources. A company needs both Big Ideas and Small Ideas. The approach to encourage everyday innovative and creative thinking may lead to the big idea. Many modern successful companies provide time and resources for their employees to stimulate innovation. Brainstorming sessions on client’s issues can lead to new insights. Awarding ideas that suggest a new way of doing something that has not been done before by proving extra time off may stimulate people to think about problem at little bit harder.

Every employee needs to be seen as a resource for innovation. Putting ideas into action is risky and fear of failure is often stopping new innovative ideas from being implemented. Finding 99 ways that does not work is a different way of looking at ideas than calling them 99 failures. Innovations trigger change and it means something new and risky.

Photo: “Soilless Vegetable Planting” by Sura Nualpradid

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