I Wanna Know What Innovation Is…

What exactly is innovation, and do you know how to innovate?

Innovation is truly a moving target – what is innovative in some industries is old news in others – I’ve been in some meetings where I’m simply astonished at what is presented as “innovation”. In many cases, it’s a small incremental feature which pushes the company to at least get slightly closer to their competitor (who is typically leading in their space) to the implementation of the companies product and service on a different platform. Oh, look! We have an app now! We are on iPad! (Of course, 90% of the app just links back to the companies website, which, in some cases, is not even mobile friendly!)

But I digress.

Every company has their own definition of innovation. For some very traditional companies, innovation is a slight improvement, leading them a bit closer to the market leader. In others, it’s taking those big leaps into the future, investing in those areas where our future scenario planning determines are ready to go next. What is the difference between these two companies? The former is not yet ready to lead.

They are not ready, willing or able to take the leap to surpass the leader in their space, which they could easily do, by being prepared to take that leap. They lack the corporate self-esteem.

I’ve used this example many times before: some places in Africa (such as Kenya) are much further ahead than some first world countries when it comes to mobile development because they never had the “baggage” of landlines to deal with. They leapfrogged into the mobile space, jumping ahead of us because they could, thus driving the adoption of many more mobile phone features, such as mobile banking.

In many of our engagements, we also seek to guide companies to make that leap, to stop thinking that they will never be the market leader, instead of staying safe in the leader’s shadow, and to make that leap far ahead of the leader, to out-innovate the innovator in that space. It all comes back to knowing how to innovate.

The reality is that, despite your leaders telling everyone that innovation is everyone’s job, very few employees are either incentive to innovate, or given the time to innovate. You need dedicated innovation personnel who can help to drive your vision, to raise your corporate self-esteem so can you can truly believe that you can become the leader in your space.

Innovation can drive you into the top spot, all you need are the skills to get there and the drive to be there, and the willingness to understand that you are ready, willing and able to lead.

For the leaders, it seems easy, but in the market of today, where loyalty means little, it does not need to take much to become a new leader, especially when you already are a strong player in the space. What it takes is the willingness to leapfrog the leader, to make a big bet beyond what even they would make, and, in so doing secure that top spot.

Is that not where you want to be anyway?