Getting on the same page: The importance of a common definition of innovation

by | Feb 9, 2023 | Innovation

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Having a common understanding and language for concepts is key to collaborating well to achieve success.

Imagine if our ideas for what a party looked like were completely different but we were set to create one together. My assumption is that we will invite 3 or 4 people, with low music in the background so we can hear each other talking versus your idea of inviting everyone in the street and turning up the music! Imagine the disaster that could result if we rushed into action mode before first sitting down and checking in to see if we have a common understanding between us of what we mean by a party.

Therefore, our first step to innovating well is to have a clear definition of innovation and always check in first with the team you are working with so that you have a common understanding. It sounds simple. But the simple things are often missed.

There is a range of innovation definitions floating around, but the good ones tend to capture common elements. One of my favourites, and the one I’ve adopted is from Scott D. Anthony’s, The Little Black Book of Innovation:

Innovation = something different that creates value

This definition captures two important elements:

  • First, to be innovative, something needs to be different to what’s been tried before. This captures the absolute importance of creativity in innovation.
  • Secondly, this thing needs to create value. By creating value, it makes life better for a real-life person.

Both elements are vital. If we produce a new product that has never been seen before but it does not add value to someone, we might consider it inventive but it is not innovative.

Alternatively, if we add value but not in a creative way, it is less innovative, and more straight problem-solving.

Some people confuse innovation with the latest technologies. Don’t fall into that trap. Things like AI, or blockchain are NOT innovative in themselves! It is how technologies are used that determines if they are innovative. Remember, they might be different but they also need to create value for people.

In summary, ensure you have a clear definition of innovation, and ensure your team also has a similar understanding. This is the first step of working on any innovation project!

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