What is Innovation?

Innovation is a misunderstood and frequently a misused word. People often use the word interchangeably with “new”, but that’s an incorrect use of the term. If you were to ask a group of people, “What is innovation?”, you would typically get “to start something new”.

Innovation is not just product development.

Let’s first start out by talking about what Innovation is not.

Innovation is not the idea

Innovation starts with a person who has an idea and we often think that the idea is innovation.

It’s not. It’s just an idea.  Ideas are a million and innovators know that execution is everything.  All too often we place too much on the idea person.  Frankly, most of our ideas are pretty bad.  More importantly, an idea is nothing more than a thought.

Innovation is not imagination

Next, in our minds, we visualize the idea as a product, service or something physical/conceptual. Your ability to picture this idea is called imagination.  We might call it a vision.  Again, we often think that imagination is innovation.

It’s not. Imagination is just your ability to see a picture of a concept within your mind.  Imagination is an important step in the process but is not innovation itself.

Innovation is not creativity

Once you have a vision for this idea, through a process, you are able to turn this idea/concept into reality.  Congratulations!  Your ability to turn an idea into reality is called creativity. Artists use creativity to create beautiful art. Entrepreneurs use creativity to create products/services/experiences.  Many people think that creativity is innovation.

It’s not. People get lucky and create a single great products and services.  Many people lack a process and can not replicate the success they achieved in the first time around.

The question is your organization or team able to create in a repeatable way?

Innovation is repeatable, scalable creativity.

Nate Young

Innovation is repeatable creativity

Innovation isn’t simply creativity. It’s repeatable creativity. It’s your ability to, time after time, exercise creativity to translate an idea into reality. An innovative company, nonprofit, church is an organization that is able to consistently be creative and create value through their people, their culture and a well defined innovation process.

The industrial revolution has taught us to be linear, left-brain thinkers who value factory-like repeatability and scalability.  Creativity requires abstract, right-brain thinkers who thrive in uncertain, chaotic environments.

We are trained early on to be homogeneous and to get in line, but creativity demands that we be unpredictable and to walk the unbeaten path.

We have two sides of our brain, but why are we only using one side? Innovation requires people who use both sides of their brain.

Key Ingredients of Innovation: People + Process + Infrastructure

The first ingredient for innovation is a diverse group of people. All ideas come from people but divergent thinking is best done amongst a diverse group of people. Diversity and collaboration are in our ability to think divergently. The different perspectives, experiences, and cultures that brings together an amazing amount of ideas and unique thoughts.

Innovation doesn’t happen by accident.  It must be designed.

The second ingredient for innovation is an innovation process. The key to repeated creativity is not only the idea, imagination and creativity to execute, but in order to survive, we must be creative and be able to turn ideas into reality, over and over again. This ability to repeat creativity requires not only people but a tools, practices, constraints and a process. The process helps the team to gather, align and focus and deliver amazing results over and over again.

The third ingredient is an infrastructure that supports innovation.  Companies and leaders may claim that they want change, but most people are afraid of change.  People who’s careers, egos, retirement are built on existing products and revenues are subconsciously motivated to keep the status quo and avoiding change. Corporate cultures that do not understand that failure is validated learning will foster a culture of fear where people never take risks.  Innovation requires an infrastucture that provides support from the highest levels of the organization, adequate financial support and fosters a culture that encourages people to be courageous to be bold and take risks.

The Definition of Innovation

So, there you have it. Innovation is repeatable, scalable creativity through people, process, and infrastructure.

Is your organization, company, church, team building a system that fosters a environment for creativity? Are you able to repeat the original successes of your organization? Are you unleashing the potential and creativity that is within your people? Is your organization innovating?