by Cathy Dunn and Phil Allcock

In a nutshell

1. What is innovation?

From a business perspective, innovation means studying what’s going on, what’s possible and then

  • Introducing new products into existing markets
  • Introducing established products into new markets
  • Introducing new ways of delivering existing products that bring benefits in terms of customers’ satisfaction and/or of profitability
  • Using new technology to do any of the above
  • Changing the way we think of, and treat, something that we thought of as a waste product and turning it into a useful resource
  • Challenging the way that people think about something familiar and, as a result, persuading them that something new is possible.


2. Innovation isn’t...

Below are some of the false ideas that prevent people from becoming innovative. Innovation isn’t...

  • Just something geniuses do
  • Just about having bright ideas; it’s also about turning ideas into products, services or processes that really make a positive difference to the way your organisation does business
  • Just about you – enabling other people’s innovation is possibly a more productive contribution than having and implementing the ideas yourself.


3. Creativity versus innovation

There is an obvious link between innovation and creativity, in that both concepts deal with the ideas of something being new or different, but they are not the same:

  • ‘Being creative’ is usually described as having ‘originality of thought’ or ‘showing imagination’
  • Innovation is much more the application or introduction of new or different ideas to existing situations, with the aim of improving processes and products and giving a new lease of life to the current state.


4. How to support and enable innovation

There are many different contributions to the process of innovation. You may be the one ‘doing the innovation’, but perhaps you are the manager or a co-worker of someone who is generating new ideas and products. The Innovation Potential Indicator identifies four areas of behaviours that can lead to the introduction of new and improved ways of doing things in organisations:

  • Motivation to change – wanting to seek and adopt change, including a wish to understand and solve complex problems
  • Challenging behaviour – this relates to the willingness to take risks and challenge current thinking
  • Adaption looks at ways of solving problems, either through evolutionary steps or by looking for completely new ways of doing so
  • Consistency of work styles looks at the various ways of approaching work – whether methodical and consistent or whether the approach tends to be more impulsive and non-conformist.


5. A five-stage process

If you want to innovate, try working through this five-stage process:

  • Preparation – involves paying real, detailed attention to what’s going on in the area of your business where you want to innovate
  • Generation – once you’ve explored and understood the context in which you’re wanting to innovate, you can start to come up with ideas
  • Incubation – once you’ve developed some options, sleep on them, or at least go away, do something else and then come back to them
  • Evaluation – once you’ve slept on the options you’ve created, you can evaluate them from a more objective perspective
  • Implementation – turning, with the cooperation of colleagues, clients, suppliers and so on, a good idea into something that works to everyone’s satisfaction!


6. Some fundamental principles

Michael Gelb has studied the genius of Leonardo da Vinci and come up with seven fundamental principles of innovation.

  • Curiosità is the notion of ‘incurable curiosity’ – where you are always asking questions and seeking to understand how things work, what they do and how it’s done.
  • Dimostrazione is all about trying things. Until you test something out, you’ll have no way of knowing whether the idea that your curiosity has just planted in your mind will work or not.
  • Sensazione – observation of what’s happening around you through using all of your senses gives a richness of data.
  • Sfumato – developing a level of comfort with ambiguity helps you to be willing to go in a direction that may not be entirely clear, just to see what happens – you may discover something surprising!
  • Arte/scienza – for Leonardo, art and science were indissolubly linked, so giving him access to a wide range of possibilities to see new ways to operate and do things.
  • Corporalità – to think well we need to care for our bodies and also to pay attention to our spiritual life.
  • Connessione – if all things are connected, then thorough observation of the world around us can lead us to see patterns, relationships and the systems that make things work and can help us build new awareness.


7. Some useful techniques

There are a number of easily-used techniques that can be applied at each of the different stages of the process:

  • Preparation – the five whys technique, involving stakeholders, mind-mapping, meditation
  • Generation – borrow ideas from other fields, learn from the past, use the TRIZ technique
  • Incubation – sleep on it, go away and do something else
  • Evaluation – involve stakeholders, identify all possible costs, imagine you’re justifying your idea on Dragon’s Den, set up a trial
  • Implementation – do things, use project management tools, win doubters over, create a storyboard of the change, use allies you made earlier.


8. Some blockages and some responses

One of the reasons that people don’t innovate is that it can be challenging and they fear failure. It is possible, however, to anticipate and overcome those challenges by doing or saying some relatively straightforward things.

  • If people say it won’t work, turn the conversation around to focus on the consequences of not trying.
  • If you run out of energy, find ways of re-engaging and energising yourself – through mediation or treating yourself.
  • Don’t imagine your idea has to be completely new and different.