Creating an Innovative Culture

"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower." - Steve Jobs

There’s lots of conversation in the current media about being innovative and the need for companies to innovate. Many of these articles talk suggest that companies should give employees the ability to innovate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for innovation. But the more I hear about the imperative of innovation, the more I’m convinced that people don’t know what innovation means.

Merriam-Webster defines innovation as the act of introducing something new (i.e. a new idea, method or device).

The key word for me is “new”. Notice the definition doesn’t include the word “better” or “more efficient” or “cheaper”. It only says “new”. The way I see it is, if a department streamlines a process and makes it quicker and less costly to the company … that’s innovation. It’s a new process.

Technically, the reverse is true too. A department creates a new process that is more cumbersome, resulting in increased customer complaints and more expenses. Well, the process is “new” – so I guess they were innovating.

True innovation must do two things – be new and be better than before. That doesn’t mean it has to be perfect on the first try. But it must be moving in a positive direction. Companies that want to be known for innovation must understand what “better than before” looks like. It could look many different ways. For example, innovation might be:

  • Finishing something faster (but at the same cost)
  • Doing something at a lower cost (but maybe it takes a little longer, and that’s okay)
  • Completing something with better quality (and the costs goes up a little or remains the same)

Innovation will mean different things to different companies. Innovation is tied to the company vision and mission. It’s directly linked to organizational culture. Some organizations will innovate based upon the discoveries of others. Early adopters are not the only innovators.

The first step to becoming an innovative culture is knowing your business and what it stands for. Innovation is unique to each organization. So before companies becoming frustrated at a lack of innovation, maybe they need to ask themselves…do we know what innovation means for our business?

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