116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Innovation is not everything. And everything isn’t an innovation.
As a business community, though, we love the idea of innovation. It sounds sexy and new and revolutionary to the point of proving value in whatever way we want.
As director of innovation for an organization focused on building entrepreneurship, tech education and innovation across Iowa, I pay attention to how and where this idea is communicated.
It is a lot. We sprinkle it across everything like salt on french fries.
One of the standards in communication is clarity. When we use the word innovation to describe every activity we undertake, we are not creating clarity.
My fellow word lovers will understand the nuance between innovation as a noun and innovate as a verb.
Innovation is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “the action or process of innovating.” It is further defined as a new method, idea, product, etc.
Not even our dictionary gets to the clarity we seek; it leaves innovation open-ended by definition. When you Google the definition for “innovation in business” or “types of innovation,” you get myriad returns, thereby proving that creating our own definition is what we have done.
One of my favorite quotes is from Jesse Nieminen of Viima: “Innovation isn’t something you can simply add to the mix; it needs to be a core part of the way your organization works.”
It’s not a seasoning for your recipe for success. It is the main ingredient.
So how do we stop sprinkling it on top of the work we do, get clear on what we mean and integrate innovation into the products of our work?
I’ve got three ways to interrogate this process within your organization that can help you create clarity around innovation in your organization.
These are activities you can embrace regardless of where you sit in your organization.
1. Ask this question — What is innovation for our organization?
This may seem like table stakes, but my suspicion is if you asked several people in your organization to define it, you’d receive several definitions.
Take the time to create the standard that fits your organization and its mission. Then challenge one another to use it the same way until the definition is integrated into the core of the way you work.
2. Leverage different tools for decision-making, problem-solving and brainstorming — Using the same tools time after time can breed rote responses within the process.
By introducing new ways of processing, we activate the creative part of our brain and engage differently.
Innovation games are a great way to introduce new patterns of engagement with routine processes. No more boring mind maps or group-think sessions, games are engaging, interactive and even entertaining ways to generate productive work solutions.
We like the activities gamestorming.com offers. They are organized by activity type, which makes it easy for you to take a look at and use one in your next work session.
3. Get an outside perspective — Whether you are working on a solo project or something larger, get eyes on what you are doing that is not your own.
Tell them you have joined the quest for clarity around innovation and have them challenge your assumptions, conclusions and everything in between.
Feedback is one of the best gifts we can give each other as professionals. Don’t be stingy in asking for it and giving it when asked.
We all love to despise a good buzzword.
Innovation is such a powerful force in business and the way we work, it feels traitorous to call it a buzzword. But when it is used for everything, it truly does start to lose its luster.
My personal quest is to challenge myself to find the action that supports the label before I name something innovative to get to the longed-for clarity. I hope you and your organization will join my quest for clarity.
Jennifer Murphy is director of innovation services at NewBoCo in Cedar Rapids.