Defining Innovation

Over a year ago I set out to define innovation for myself and my company. Today I write this with so much knowledge gained around the subject, and I’m going to skip right to the good stuff.

How you work, live, interact, think, test, question, poke, and otherwise, has everything to do with your ability to be innovative and make your company innovative, but what innovation is, the definition you formally put behind it, has no bearing on your ability to be judged as innovative. That sounds very strange, as you might think for someone to call you innovative, they should know what it means. For the most part people do know what it means when they say it, but not in any way that calls out a set of behaviors or characteristics that further reveal why that is so. I relate it much to the idea of charisma. We know what it is, and we can tell when people are charismatic, but charisma is more of a black box term. The different components that make someone charismatic are hard to measure, and they differ from person to person; this is the same with a company that is innovative.

I think the real lesson to be gained here is that, if you, like me, want to become more understanding of the practices, processes, behaviors, values and beliefs that commonly make up the science of innovation, don’t be surprised if you still can’t formally define innovation, especially not as a tool to then build your innovative practices upon. Instead, what you end up changing about you or your team or your company to help move you toward being labeled innovative will define how you innovate, and that’s what really matters.

The other big takeaway from this is that, with no bearing on your ability to be or eventually be innovative, your definition of innovation becomes a tool. While you may be able to come to terms with the discomfort of not formally defining innovation, not everyone will. So make up definition for the people around you that helps them feel included in the innovation process, a definition that tells them it’s easy and anyone can do it. Is that true? Maybe, maybe not. But I think if you don’t believe that in the first place, getting there will be much harder.

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