Innovation in many workplaces used to be something rather remote – in concept and physicality.
It was vaguely something to do with R&D; the domain of scientists, inventors and engineers in labs and sheds – certainly not the corporate managers or the accounts staff or the HR department.
Now, innovation is everyone’s business. It’s a government decree.
In a truly innovative workplace, everyone has a mindset of thinking and stretching beyond the present, to add value to the future.
And for common goals to be achieved, you need a common language and a commitment to action.
It’s important that we share the meaning of innovation language, not only to manage expectations but also to be clear about what needs to be done… because innovation is about more than coming up with ideas; it’s about doing something with them to create value.
Here are seven fuzz and buzz terms associated with innovation that your team needs to understand to reduce miscommunication risk.
I’m going to start with the F Word.
Don’t be afraid of this four-letter F word.
Fail, in innovation, is not a dirty word. In fact, to fail is to take a crucial step in the innovation process. If you fail, at least you’ve taken some kind of action with an idea.
The more ideas you try, the more failures you have; but you also increase your chances of success.
An innovation-focused workplace doesn’t frown upon failure because it knows that “very often the best way to test an idea is not to analyse it but to try it” (Paul Sloane, Enterprise Innovation).
Failing is how we learn what works (or doesn’t) about an idea.
It’s paramount that the meaning and context of the word ‘fail’ in terms of innovation is understood by everyone on the team.
2. IDEA, INVENTION, INNOVATION
Is there a difference between them? Yes.
An idea is the result of thoughts grouped together. An idea is a formation of shapes and meaning in our brains. On its own, an idea is not an invention or an innovation. But we need ideas to come up with inventions and innovations.
Inventions are new, never-been-done-before manifestations of ideas that change how we do things.
They are more tangible than just the idea and usually translate into functional objects we can see, touch, hear, taste, and so on.
Innovation is about identifying ideas, and their subsequent implementation, to improve something that already exists or to use it for another valuable purpose.
“Innovation is the clever use of novel ideas and new ways of doing things in order to add business value” (Australian Business Foundation/Deloitte Innovation Study 2006).
When you expect your staff to be innovative and include it as a KPI, you’re not asking them just to come up with ideas.
You’re expecting them to develop new ideas into new benefits, new business value.
That message needs to be very clear.
Otherwise, at performance review time, Janet will point out that she’s been topping up the suggestion box every week and wonders why her effort isn’t reflected in her score for the innovation KPI.
Suggestion boxes on their own don’t count as innovation activity. It’s what happens with those deposits that makes the difference.
3. ENTREPRENEUR & INTRAPRENEUR.
An entrepreneur says “That’s a good idea, I reckon I could make money out of that!”
So they set up or support a business venture, and take on the financial and reputational risks in the hope of returning a profit. Entrepreneurs appreciate risk, but are rarely reckless with it.
An intrapreneur works for someone else. They’re someone employed in an established enterprise who thinks like an entrepreneur and tries to make money for that business from doing something new within it, differently.
An intrapreneur says “There’s gotta be a better way of doing this…I reckon if we did this, then that would happen…let’s try it.”
Intrapreneuers are innovation champions. They lead by example but often don’t see themselves as such.
Commercialisation is not simply selling something for profit.
It’s about developing an innovative idea from its early concept stages, ironing out the risks so it’s ready for the market and able to attract money.
And that ‘market’ probably won’t be the end-user or consumer in the first instance. the buyer or the backer might be a licensee who wants to access and exploit a new technology or discovery to develop their own new products and services.
Commercialisation is about convincing companies to invest in and incorporate innovations into their business models for a competitive edge and growth.
It’s about sharing your intellectual assets with people who have financial assets so your idea can move from ‘what if’ to ‘problem solved’.
5. START-UPS & SPIN-OUTS
Just starting a new business doesn’t make you a start-up.
Start-ups are formed to develop a specific new idea or discovery that will solve a specific problem, and get that new technology or process onto the market and make a profit from it.
Start-ups aren’t just micro-companies developing software and other digital inventions either. There are plenty of start-ups commercialising health services, hydrogen storage technologies, methods to fight plant viruses, and ways to turn waste water into useful chemicals, for example.
Spin-outs (or spin-offs) are new companies created to commercialise specific problem-solving ideas from a parent company. They’re like new shoots that are clipped from the main branch to develop autonomously like a start-up.
Collaboration is not just teamwork. It’s not simply cooperating or sharing ideas.
It’s when two or more parties share their resources – their knowledge, time, facilities, money, etc. – and the risk to make something happen for mutual benefit … and often for the benefit of others or the environment or the economy or culture.
Collaboration is an investment, and like any investment it requires effort to maximise the return.
Collaborators put their own skin in the game.
Collaboration is not just networking. Collaborators tap into their networks to see which connections might be willing and able to contribute towards solving a problem for a return on that investment, because it matters to them.
7. IMPLEMENTATION (aka EXECUTION)
Innovation in the workplace is more than coming up with ideas and creative problem solving.
Ideation is just one step in the innovation process.
One of the biggest monsters of innovation mutilation in the workplace is getting everyone all fired up about the new ideas and then not following through.
Not progressing the defining, the discovery, the development and the delivery.
Without a commitment to implementation, all that brainstorming and workshopping is just a distraction from doing what you always do – and getting the same results you always got.
Implementation is innovation in action.
Earlier I talked about accepting failure – not being punished when an idea doesn’t turn out to be as wonderful as we’d hoped and acknowledging that action has occurred.
Remember, ideas are the result of thoughts. To have thoughts you must think. Think is a verb – using your mind to form ideas and judgements; a verb is a doing word, an action word.
So…let’s verbify the word ‘idea’:
I – inspire
When we feel inspired, we are shifted out of our normal thought and behaviour patterns. We see things and hear things differently.
D – develop
We start to develop an idea by considering how it might look, feel, taste, move, smell, sound, react.
We consider how it might impact on others or a problem or obstacle.
E – energise
And we transfer more and more of our energy to it to it, so it starts to have a life of its own, to breathe and move.
A – act
When we act on the idea – do something to make it move from us to others – we start to share knowledge and make change happen.
Without implementation, without action, ideas are just ides.
Ides, if you know your Ancient History, are turning points, midway marks – the Ides of March = the 15th day of the month, the halfway point.
So an idea without action means you’re only halfway there.
Ideas without action are just ides. And ides can be brutal – just ask Julius Caesar.
Impact Innovation can help your team share a common language for innovation and turn ideas into commercial assets. Contact us to find out how.
– Leanne Wyvill, Senior Associate & Presence Communications Lead Trainer