It’s official – Innovation is the most IMPORTANT and OVERUSED word (in America) claimed Wired, probably worldwide (if you ask me).
It is a buzzword that seems to go in and out of fashion. Today it is still the mantra of many brands. There are countless conferences, blogs, articles, awards and hack-a-thons dedicated to innovation. Many companies have set up innovation labs to encourage their employees to come up with ideas or to build and test concepts in-house. And the big end of town brands — think Apple v Samsung v Google — jockey for the coveted innovation title.
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In my role, I can continue to evangelise innovation, or I can try and move it from buzzword to a culture ingrained within a true focus on finding solutions to the problems worth solving. To do this it needs to be demystified, talked about in simple terms, in ways that are not only understandable but demonstrable, and most importantly encouraged within the agency model.
…move from buzzword to a culture ingrained within a true focus on finding solutions to the problems worth solving
A quick Google search will uncover a plethora of definitions, from economists to authors, bloggers, CEOs, CIOs, CTOs to consultants. You will also find endless variations of the word. Here are six commonly used definitions:
- Front-end Innovation, I have been a long standing member of this LinkedIn Group. It’s been defined as the process of making sense of insights to identify needs and opportunities that will then lead to the creation of ideas, concepts and prototypes – some of them being developed further to constitute the final innovation.
- You might have heard about Efficiency Innovation, which is about creating a process that increases efficiency for both the consumer and the company (think about Amazon’s distribution process – and no not drones!).
- Disruptive Innovation currently one of the top-trending buzz-phrases at the moment. You can read my interviews with some of the best thinkers in this space here. This is the notion that creating something completely new will radically change (or disrupt) the environment in which it operates. This is the type of innovation that many believe can revamp an entire market or category – that could change the way people interact with a product, service or brand – that could influence behaviours and inspire trends, but that could also change the way a company operates. Disruptive innovation does not always meet a need, but sometimes creates one.
- Breakthrough Innovation brings a new value proposition to the market and is a bold move made by a brand that wants to break away from the status quo. It usually appears to be the one and ideal solution to an existing need or problem in the market.
- Core Innovation is about introducing change to something that already exists and that the brand decides to capitalise on. It is an innovation that will sit at the heart of the business offering and will either bring improvements to an existing product or service, or attract new users.
- Then there is Sustained Innovation, which refers to a brand’s real commitment to change. This requires a strong and relevant culture, as well as employees who are actively involved in the creation, sharing and development of ideas within the company.
To me, innovation encapsulates all of the above definitions and so much more. Some talk about innovation in terms of requirements, others in terms of output (disruption, breakthrough, transformation). I find more and more when I meet with clients, I talk less about innovation and more about business solutions:
Deeply understanding the business problem clients face, and then applying properly practiced creativity, a little rule breaking, and collaboration, to delivery solutions that solve the problem, have a positive impact on the brand and drives real growth.
Business needs to think less about putting a label on their innovation, and focus on delivering brilliant solutions to meet their clients’ problems. I strongly associate innovation with collaboration involving a wide range of stakeholders, creative thinkers and technologists. The most successful collaborations bring together a wide and diverse range of people – from, clients, consumers or the users-audience, industry experts and even trend-spotters – to make sure the final solution is not just an idea for an ideas-sake, but is deeply rooted in consumer needs. Ultimately delivering growth for the company.
Innovation should be fun, open, genuine, sometimes small. It needs open minds and collaboration. It definitely does not need a label. The most important thing is that businesses recognise the need for it and then experiment with the boundaries and what they feel comfortable with.
For brands, your agencies – the right agency – can play a big role in bringing fresh, creative, new perspectives building real growth not just awareness. Just say YES to innovation rather than spending the time on another brief. I promise you you’ll get to a better place.