3 Questions to Ask If You’re Serious about Innovation

Most organizations have “being more innovative” as a part of their strategic imperative wish list. Everyone recognizes that in today’s rapidly changing work environment an organization’s ability to constantly reinvent itself, pivot, and be agile in the face of disruption is essential.

In designing our new Fearless Innovation™ program, we identified three mindsets and a four-step process to create an innovative culture. But before you apply these tools, it’s critical that you clarify what innovation means in your organization and have some agreements in place about how you intend to get there. Otherwise, innovation runs the risk of generating a lot of activity without a lot of output.

Get Clear on the Meaning of Innovation

Innovation has a subjective element to it. What's innovative to one may be familiar to another. For example, some believe innovation must be something brand new, never seen before. But even the word new has many definitions, such as latest, state-of-the-art, and advanced. It also means improved, refreshed, and remodeled—words that probably don't come to mind when we think about innovation.

One of the most important components of the Fearless Innovation™ program is that it clearly defines what is—and is not—innovation. Here is our definition:

Innovation is the discipline of applying ideas that solve problems in new ways to create value.

There are a few key words in this definition that I want to highlight: discipline, applying, and value. In virtually all circumstances, innovation can be made real by asking these questions:

  • Is it disciplined? If not, it’s random and unlikely to be launched. 
  • Is it applied? If not, it’s just ideas.
  • Does it create value? If not, it was an experiment.

These three questions highlight the essential intentions that must be in place in order for innovation to succeed. Consider the degree to which your organization has these intentions—and what the implications might be to your success if they are lacking.

Is it disciplined? Are you doing innovation as a process? If not, it's haphazard and the likelihood of success is threatened. You might have redundant efforts across the organization. Or a team innovates but there is no process for sharing. Do you have a process in place that gets you from point to point and leads to a tangible output?

Is it applied? This is the intention of taking an idea and doing something with it. So often, we see innovation just as thinking up really cool ideas—and that is a piece of it. But for innovation to be successful, it needs to be brought into the world in a way that people can react to it. It doesn’t have to be completely planned out, just enough to be tested. We think of this as experimenting, and it is a great way to frame your application. Experimenting carries with it the possibility that it could fail—but it also conveys that something will be learned along the way.

Does your innovation create value? This requires the intention of measuring the impact of your experiment. Adding a measurement component will be crucial later on, when the funding of future experiments comes up. The goal is to measure early and spend as little on failures as possible. That will require knowing what a good job looks like.

A Consistent Approach Gets You Closer to Success

Although it might appear to happen quickly, true innovation evolves over time. The idea may come up really fast, but bringing it to fruition will likely require a drawn-out process of putting the adequate time, resources, and budget in place.

Even breakthrough products like the iPhone were the result of thousands of engineers making little improvements over the years. Nothing just magically appears. Beneath the cover of an iPhone, inside the syringe of the Covid vaccine, or under the hood of a Tesla are years of work and countless unseen, iterative improvements.

Are you following an intentional process? Is it applied? Is it measured? Consider how these questions can help you develop a more creative and innovative culture in your organization.

Interested in learning more? Join me for a free look inside Blanchard’s new Fearless Innovation™ program. We’ll explore intentions, mindsets, and a four-step process for improving innovation in your organization. Click here to register for this complimentary event!

About the Author

Britney Cole

Britney Cole is Vice President of Innovation and the Head of the Blanchard Innovation Lab and Experience Center. She creates an atmosphere of excitement and forward-thinking for clients who want to rethink what it truly means to unleash the potential and power in people and organizations for the greater good.

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