Where is innovation?
One of the first questions we ask participants on our Future Innovators programme is “What is innovation?”. As we discuss all the answers and start talking about taking a systematic approach to problem solving, it becomes clear that an important next question to consider is “Where is innovation?”.
The word “innovation” comes from the Latin “innovare” which means renewal, change or reform. This is why I am careful to define innovation as something that can happen at any stage of a product or organisation’s life – be that a brand new idea or ways to improve an existing offering. One of our participants on our Glasgow University programme said “…the world needs new solutions to a ton of huge, complicated problems…” but hey, innovation is not just about things of this scale, it is about making improvements at all levels.
Another participant from our Glasgow University cohort really hit the nail on the head “…I want to build a solid foundation to help evolve my passions into something useful for others…” so our path at Skillfluence is clear – we want to help our participants turn their ideas to reality. The world needs them!
Innovation solves real problems
Examples of business innovation projects from my own experiences include taking the paper out of the new customer registration process, running a campaign to “teach your grandma to text” and removing underperforming products from the market. These are all innovations that delivered great value – the first improving the performance and cost efficiency of a process saving over £1m per year, the second delivering new ways for the older generation to communicate along with additional revenue streams for the business and the third enabled the releasing resources from one area to re-deploy in another with more potential. All of these were ideas that solved problems and created value for groups of clear beneficiaries. Perhaps not in the realm of what many consider to be innovation.
Thinking back to the desire we hear from so many of our programme participants to solve real problems, I want to reflect on “innovation theatre”. The implication of this term is that there is a whole bunch of hype rather than value being delivered. How many funded research projects end up delivering value in the real world? Looking at business, I have seen so many organisations try to demonstrate that they are innovative, buying beanbags for their break-out office areas and setting up “innovation labs” where cool new stuff happens. Does this in itself solve real problems?!
We don’t always need to ‘think big’
So here is the answer to my question of where innovation sits. The ability to innovate sits with all of us – show me a person who has never had an idea! Another participant from our Glasgow University programme, said “…I feel like I have innovative ideas but I’m never sure if they are big enough…” Innovation should not be measured by size of impact, and life-changing headlines, but by the value that we can create by solving problems. Taking a systematic approach to innovation will help us in all walks of life and should not be considered as a separate department, or something that other people do. We all need to develop our innovation skills to move our ideas forward successfully, however big or small. Ask not what innovation is but where innovation happens and how you can improve the world around you.
Written by Julia Shalet