Innovation is everywhere. Or at least the word is. CEOs talk about innovation, every technology company claims to be innovative (or to want innovative employees) and now we’re even seeing advertisements on television talk about innovation. Even Nissan, which has had innovation in their tagline for two years now, has decided to change their tagline from “Innovation for All” to something new “Innovation that Excites.” Okay, it still has innovation in it. But, the fact that they decided to move from innovation being something that is democratic, to something that is exciting, is an interesting shift. Maybe now that everybody is claiming to be innovative they felt the need to say, “No, our innovations aren’t like everyone else’s, our innovations are exciting!”
Because people talk about innovation so much, and misuse the term so frequently, I think it is important to reiterate my definition of innovation and talk a bit about the differences between invention and innovation and the differences between innovation and improvement. My definition of innovation is:
“Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into solutions valued above every existing alternative – and achieves wide adoption.”
Adoption is of course key to something moving from being an invention to innovation, but then so of course is the threshold that something is valued above every existing alternative, and as a result isn’t just merely useful – but valuable. Crossing this threshold means that people willingly replace their existing solution. Crossing this threshold is what solidifies your solution as a true innovation. And that’s the point.
Improvement versus Replacement
All companies must focus on improving their existing solutions. But at the same time they must also constantly be on guard against other ways of potentially solving the same customer problem or fulfilling the same customer need. Six Sigma does a great job at fulfilling the mission of improvement and at helping to achieve operational excellence. But while an organization must be ruthless in their pursuit of perfection, or the amount of perfection that their customers are willing to pay for and that they can make profitably, organizations must also make a commitment to the pursuit of innovation excellence. The reason companies must strike a balance between the pursuit of improvement and replacement is that sooner or later something will become possible that wasn’t possible before – due to changes in technology AND customer psychological readiness for change – creating an opening for replacement. Really good value translation (and education) can help accelerate that customer readiness, but launching before both conditions exist can lead to financial ruin. When replacement does become inevitable, the only question is whether you will continue to focus on improvement and be replaced, or whether you will have the courage to replace your own solution with a new one…
Is there any innovation here to excite?
For fun you might want to check out one of the latest Nissan advertisements from the United Kingdom for the Nissan Juke that I’ve embedded below. Is the car itself innovative? No. Is the advertisement innovative? No. But it is creative. Is there any innovation in the product at all? Well, that depends. It depends on whether there are any new components that don’t just merely improve their performance but instead completely replace the traditional approaches to solving the targeted problem or performing the job-to-be-done. What do you think, true or false?
Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.