The term “innovation” is used a lot in business, taking on buzzword status. I’ve heard corporate leaders talk about their company’s “culture of innovation” more times than I can count. But what does it mean specifically?
Is it fresh thinking that creates value? Is it new products and business processes that create wealth? Is it simply introducing something new? Or, as business guru Peter Drucker says, is it “a change that creates a new dimension of performance”? And how can we distinguish between a good idea, an invention, and an innovation, when some innovation professionals use these terms interchangeably?
The truth is, the word doesn’t have a consistent definition. And as it turns out, such confusion can actually decrease innovation in a given company.
A common language of innovation is rare
While 68% of innovation practitioners claim that it’s at least a top-three priority in their companies, only 29% take the time and effort to develop a common definition that cuts across the organization. This data comes from a survey found in a white paper called “The Role Of Communication In Successful Innovation” by Doug Williams (available on the site innovationexcellence.com).
These numbers stand in stark contrast to the data on corporate messaging about mission and vision statements and corporate values, which companies work hard to communicate.
Bad communications, less innovation
So, if companies are lousy at developing and communicating these principles, what’s the downside? Well, it actually disrupts the internal innovation process, wasting or delaying a market opportunity, wasting financial resources, and/or wasting employees’ time.
That’s why the role of communications is so important in building a larger culture of innovation, which includes having a clear and consistent definition, along with clarity on related terms. Innovation practitioners in the survey agree.
So, if you want to continue losing time and money on innovation:
• Don’t identify the innovation terms that are relevant to your business. Ignore misunderstandings about innovation among teams and individuals who deal with it regularly.
• Don’t create definitions that fit your business. Keep the definition fluffy and indistinct.
• Don’t involve Human Resources to help socialize these terms across the organization. Why would you want to create, validate, and socialize your innovation language to your fellow employees?
• Don’t share your innovation language with external partners. You’ll make the process less efficient, especially within complex supply chains.
Of course, I’m joking. But almost every company I’ve ever worked with has called “innovation” a top priority for boosting sales or increasing market leadership. And they all want to be considered innovative in their markets. That’s a fine goal, but what good is it if no one knows what it means? It can drive a writer crazy.