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Friday, May 2, 2014

Innovation or adaption? 05-03


Innovation or adaption?

I attended a corporate function recently uEntrender the theme of 'Innovation'. It was attended by innovation professionals, corporate execs and a range of participants from other innovation-related sectors.
The discussions were very interesting but I was struck by one single fact: the ambiguous and generic use of the term 'innovation' - and the ramifications of this ambiguity on the corporation.
I am troubled by this for a range of reasons.
Ever since Hamel and Prahalad made 'innovation' the catch-cry of the times for corporations a few decades ago, corporations have interpreted 'innovation' to mean 'reinventing themselves'. That's OK when it's relevant but it doesn't apply to everyone.
The concept of innovation generally refers to the 'creation of something that didn't exist previously'. This is most evident, for example in the sciences and in some technological sectors. The bionic eye and ear initiatives, wireless technologies, solar power, and so on are excellent examples of creating something new.
In the corporate context this is rare however. Corporate interpretation of 'innovation' generally means 'improvement' or 'differentiation'. Both are legitimate but neither necessarily (and rarely) mean 'creating something new.'
Of course some companies need to innovate in their products and services area, but often it's a matter of incorporating features that competitors already offer, rather than of 'creation'.
Nearly everything in the corporate space already exists somewhere. Therefore for a corporation to improve or differentiate, it is often a matter of knowing what exists and being able to apply it efficiently and effectively for its own purposes. It does not therefore mean that the corporation must create something new.
This is particularly relevant because:
1. Creation is different to applying an existing technology.
2. Creation implies cost, time and effort.
3. Creation carries financial, time, effort and reputational and corporate risk.
4. Many managers and directors don't know the difference between the two concepts.
Many of the speakers at the recent session implied that the difficulties with adopting innovation is of embedding innovation as a cultural attribute. Some of corporate speakers therefore appeared to be trying to make everyone in their organisation 'innovative'. Firstly, not everyoneneeds to be innovative. Secondly, not everyone can be innovative (even if you adopt the principles of Kaizan). Thirdly, this is all about effective change and culture management.
Ultimately innovation, regardless of one's interpretation, should never be conducted without a robust and defensible business case that demonstrates the value such innovation would deliver toward the enhancement of the host's organisational objectives.