If we want to drive growth and profitability in the enterprise, we need to redefine innovation. Changing how we think about innovation directly influences our ability to transform our organization and execute our strategy.
The concept of innovation means different things to different people. Sometimes, it is even used interchangeably in various roles and functions. Merriam-Webster offers this simple definition: “A new idea, device, or method. The act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods. The introduction of something new.”
Translating ideas into opportunities to create value for unmet needs is where we start. If innovation is how we create new things, no matter if they are completely new solutions or improvements of existing ones, then innovative thinking is how we recoil the energy necessary for rendering these ideas and extracting their potential value.
It’s often assumed that innovation can only happen within the boundaries of our core competencies. This is not true. Innovation is how we fertilize the depths of our knowledge across different domains and technologies. Innovative thinking is a notion that can help us deliver value in areas that extend beyond our primary interests, experiences, or expertise.
Here are four ways we can redefine innovation in the enterprise.
1. Embrace innovation as a mindset—not as an activity
Innovation is more about the presence of an innovation mindset than a timed event. It is an attitude that we need to instill in every role and within every business challenge. Innovation doesn’t have a start or end date—just as we expect values, such as leadership, to never expire.
As we encourage everyone to embrace it (including back-office roles and functions that are rarely glamorous), we spur continuous innovation brought about by many small, incremental, and diverse advances. This fashions a fundamental principle of innovation in the enterprise: No role, engagement, no project should ever become a lost opportunity.
2. Commit to growth and/or profitability
Everything we do in the name of innovation must lead either to growth or profitability. This principle is not our starting point, which can prohibit creativity and ambiguity (a concept we value in design thinking). Instead, our ideas need to be validated for a clear and strong link to our strategy and its role in the execution of that very strategy.
When we innovate in the enterprise, we are often forced to balance initiative and risk against limited time and resources. Innovation, in many ways, is similar to scientific research. We begin with ideas that can be as free and unrestrained as our imaginations. But, our process of tinkering with possibilities must always be wrapped around solutions baked with repeatable parts that can be eventually implemented. This is critical because innovation must happen without disrupting the business.
3. Find new solutions to old problems
Whenever I think about innovation, it reminds me of Einstein’s quote: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Often, our biases erect walls that restrain our imagination and hinder our ability to see what is right in front of our eyes. We need to rewrite the assumptions that we take for granted. I call this “value generation in not-so-obvious places.”
We innovate because we are not satisfied with the status quo and refuse to settle for complacency. That resolve paired with curiosity—a gift we’re given as a child to explore and outgrow our surroundings and risk losing as we get older—becomes the guiding light that helps us find those not-so-obvious places. However, curiosity alone cannot be the catalyst, unless we bind it to existing reality.
4. Let the pursuit of excellence be our passion
This last example is closest to my heart because there is no limit to human creativity and ingenuity—there are only temporary boundaries of time. Passion is the fuel of a self-drive packed with energy and optimism for what is yet to be conquered, despite the challenges and obstacles we are certain to face.
Think about it. How can you innovate if you don’t pursue excellence and settle for less? Innovation is a dynamic equation that cannot be decoded on static ideas. As Franklin Roosevelt said so beautifully, “There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.”
As I always argue, we chase perfection, however elusive, not because we think we’ll ever be perfect. But because we believe it brings us closer to excellence in everything we are and ever hope to be. This is the very essence of innovation.