Understanding Innovation

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Innovation is considered to be one of the most defining characteristics of a successful organisation. From an individual perspective, the capacity to be creative defines your employability.

So what is innovation?

In simple terms innovation is the ability to take something, and to place it with something different in a way that provides some form of value.

For example, the classic paper bag and gift wrapping paper existed separately for 100 years. Then, one day, they were put together and the Gift Bag was born. On many levels this is an example of linear or incremental innovation. After all, both wrapping paper and the classic paper bag were both made of paper.

The Sony Walkman of the 1980s is another, non-linear outcome of taking something and placing it with something different. This time it was adding a music player to the concept of portability.

In many ways the iPod is an incremental innovation that evolved from the original Walkman. Yet it is also an example of non-linear innovation. In this example the portable music player was added to a computer and the internet and the iPod was born.

So how do you develop the capacity to innovate? Practice.

Each time you face a problem or a challenge ask yourself what two or more things could I put together to solve this problem or just add value to my present circumstance?

While non-linear innovation is regarded as the step-change or game-breaking type of innovation, incremental innovation is also valuable. Conscious practice of innovation is what builds its capacity. How often are you and/or your organisation practicing it?

If you’re looking for something to read on this topic, it is still pretty hard to go past Gary Hamel’s book Leading The Revolution.

Gary Ryan helps leaders and talented professionals to move Beyond Being Good.