My Innovation Confession


I presented this morning to about 50 business directors at who are members of London’s Partnership.  Usually, I’d be talking about social media or engagement at this kind of thing, but today’s topic was business innovation. Out of the comfort zone I went.  But it felt good.  Here’s my take:

I have a confession about the term ‘innovation’: It conflicts me.  In so many cases it feels like a label. I’m not crazy about it. To me, It’s a simple enough concept: Doing something differently, to effect positive change. But that’s not everyone’s view.

Over-doing it

What bothers me is that the very word has been over-used, over-processed, intellectualised.  Made complicated, made abstract and conceptual, made elitist….

I probably owe you an explanation.  In a previous life I worked for a consulting firm. They had an innovation practice, a VP of innovation, they ran innovation events. To me, it wasn’t real enough.  Not to me as an employee, or the clients and projects I engaged with.  There, it remained a concept. I still couldn’t see it, or experience it.

But I know and understand that innovation is important. Move beyond concept, make it tangible and it’s a tool for business.  It can help us keep up, overtake, break new ground and make the most of new technology and developments.

It’s a vital mindset in the quest for continual improvement.  That’s my definition.

Reality bites

But we have to make it mean something ‘real’ to our business.  We all need a workable definition of innovation in the context of your business, my business, the world that we all operate in – our reality.

Reality-based innovation, if you will, could pay dividends and make the difference between a good marketing approach and an outstanding one, a strong brand and an emotive one, a content, functioning workforce and a highly-motivated, dynamic team of ambassadors.

So where do we begin? Take a look around – innovation exists in myriad areas of business and often not through planning, just through mindset.

Brewed Boy: Rob uses the core of what he does to add value in terms of community and like minds: book swap, coaching sessions, informal meet ups.  I suspect he doesn’t actively seek to innovate.  He just does.

Etsy: Using the power of community / shared passions / a major trend to open up a new market

Groupon: Game changer for consumers and retailers alike – win-win

Shutl: Quest to change the way we shop – responding to a consumer frustration

Innocent: people at the heart of everything / massive community focus

Audioboo: Harnessing technology to help us do things more smartly

What’s the common denominator?  Passion.  Wanting to make things better. Not wanting to stand still.  These businesses change and evolve rapidly, they’re geared up to be flexible.  They can (and will) try something new tomorrow

Clue: think about where pockets exist for your organisation to innovate

The big/small rule

Don’t let a big concept put you off.  Define first of all what innovation can mean to you and your business.

Innovation can be a baby step, just a small thing you do differently that can change the course of something, make it better, to encourage people to act differently.

That’s the big rule:  Innovation doesn’t have to be big

Doesn’t have to be a cumbersome process.  For example, for Wisdom London, it’s a case of wrapping value around our brand – moving slightly beyond our core offer to add something useful, desirable and thoughtful (resources, tips, thoughts, tools, even cake).  Human.  Personal.

For your reality, some considerations….

  • Actively observe.  Be a tourist.  In your own organization. Throw out your preconceptions. Get your head up and look around.
  • Reality check: Check out everyone’s reality: yours, your teams’ your clients, stakeholders, target market.  You need to understand this REALLY well. Innovation can happen anywhere. It’s just a question of identifying where it’s most ripe.
  • Question the status quo. Innovation is not about doing things the same way they’ve always been done.  Ask why, why not, ask again
  • Dare to dream: Hypothesise.  What if x, y or z was used differently?  Repackaged? What if the concept was expanded?  Extra value wrapped around it? What’s the risk attached to that?
  • Try it, review and try again – don’t let it remain a concept
  • Don’t stand still

What it all boils down to:

I don’t see innovation as a process that should be overlaid on a business, or a stand-alone activity.  I am deeply sceptical about the need to assign responsibility for innovation to one person or team.

Here’s my view.  Innovation is simply an opportunity. Either in or you’re out. Thinking innovatively or not.

It’s a mindset that should be engaged when you think about your business in the context of marketing, productivity and improvement.  It’s an opportunity to do things differently.  To move away from conventional wisdom, to be bold, to differentiate.

This is not everyone’s view.  The academic view is more along the lines of “creativity is a mindset, innovation is a process”.  In an academic scenario, I accept that I may be wrong or at least off beam.

But we’re not academics.  We’re business people in the real world.  I don’t think we should get caught up in semantics.

We should simply aspire to create, do things differently, better, responsively and in a way that genuinely meets the needs of people and business – and innovation or not – we can call it what we want.

Kate Spiers is director and founder of Wisdom London. She believes in action, not semantic debate.

Slides here: Business Innovation Wisdom London

Follow Kate on Twitter

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2 Responses to “My Innovation Confession”

  1. Kate
    Great presentation – you were not out of your comfort zone, simply honest! Your business is going to go from strength to strength with presentations like that. I have been a member of PRP for 1 year and this was by far the best I have seen. Good luck and best wishes for the future.

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