In my blog last week, I made the point that innovation is a learned process that we can all integrate into our lives to build a daily habit. Too often, innovation is seen as a final product or result, not an ongoing process.
The other widespread misconception about innovation is that it is somehow synonymous with technology. Organizations, including governments, tout their innovativeness in terms of the adoption or introduction of a new technological advancement. While great new high tech gadgets and offerings may be the result of innovation, they are not innovation itself. The process of innovation can result in new ways to do almost anything – from services to design to manufacturing processes. It is the innovation process – and the mental skills that make it work – that are the crucial element to driving progress.
Governments that tout their innovativeness with the adoption of new technologies all too frequently actually serve to signal their innovative inadequacies. New technologies often only improve the effectiveness of existing processes and routines. They enable us to vote more quickly, pay more quickly, and complain faster, but is that really all that we want in terms of innovative thinking from our governments? Real, high impact innovation in government occurs when the fundamental approach to managing and solving societal issues changes from the current, traditional model. The town of Pelham in the Niagara region of Ontario is one notable exception, as I have described in previous blogs.
In business, along with the erroneous notion that innovation equals technology, I also often hear people speak of innovation as something owned by the research and development department. It’s as if people expect that R&D folks will do innovation, find an exciting new product or service, then hand it off to the rest of the company, where innovation is no longer useful or important. The most successful innovation occurs when R&D staff team up with experts from areas like marketing, sales and manufacturing, who can bring their own knowledge of suppliers, consumers and users to the process.
Organizations that are looking to succeed today and into the future must establish a ‘How Might We?’ culture in which every employee feels motivated and empowered to find and define problems, and develop and implement creative solutions. The reward will be an engaged and imaginative workforce.