Through our work in organizations, with clients, as well as with students in both public administration and business administration courses, we have witnessed a wide range of definitions of "innovation." Some of these, of course, are better than others. These definitions typically include references to "creative thinking," "brainstorming," "new products and services," "breakthrough technologies," and/or "radical business models."
It’s one thing for a leader to stand up and ask for innovation, but quite another if everyone in the room has a different viewpoint as to what the leader is asking for! In this connection, it is very important to take the time to discuss and clarify what the concept of innovation means to you, your colleagues, and your organization so that everyone has a common platform or foundation upon which to work! Indeed, we have found that articulating such a shared meaning and understanding is a staple of sound innovation practice.
In the bestselling book, The Seeds of Innovation, we offer a simple, yet comprehensive, definition of Innovation that consists of four key building blocks: (1) Creativity (a "new" idea); (2) Strategy (a new and "useful" idea); (3) Implementation ("taking action" with a new and useful idea); and (4) Profitability (bringing "added value," not necessarily in financial or monetary terms, to the team or organization through the implementation of a new and useful idea).
The expression of creativity without consideration of strategic needs/intent and implementation concerns/effects, including the operational, financial, and psychological or human elements that always come attached to creative ideas, has limited value in organizational life. You can see from our holistic definition of Innovation—which can be summarized and stated as the "profitable implementation of strategic creativity"—that we consider the concept of innovation to extend well beyond the new products, technology, or business model views that can be found more commonly in the innovation literature. As such, everyone in the organization should be encouraged to participate in finding and implementing new and useful ideas, especially those that are truly meaningful and make a positive difference for customers, employees, partners, and the community (of stakeholders) "at large"!
In support of Innovating with Meaning, we urge you to take the time to define and build a common understanding of what you mean by the term "innovation," instead of simply stating it as an objective or corporate mantra!
Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners of Our Thoughts (www.prisonersofourthoughts.com) and Elaine Dundon is author of The Seeds of Innovation (www.seedsofinnovation.com). They are co-authors of an article, "Innovating with Meaning," in Leadership Excellence Magazine (November 2008) and the book, Innovating with Meaning (forthcoming).