The term “innovation” gets bandied about a lot these days. For organizations to truly benefit from their innovation initiatives, they first must understand what exactly it is—and what it is not.
It has been my humble pleasure to work with a number of outstanding luminaries in judging the MIX’s most recent challenge, the Innovating Innovation Challenge (the first leg of this year’s Harvard Business Review/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation) . This challenge asked for real-world case studies and bold new ideas that make progress in making innovation a deep-rooted, systematic competence in all types of organizations. Innovators submitted entries in which new strategies helped organizations to harness the innovativeness of the people within, and to better the world around them. The main question was, “How do we make innovation more of a natural act and less of a ‘happy accident?’”
In pursuit of that goal, the MIX received more than 140 entries from a diverse group of thinkers, practitioners and experimenters. I’ve distilled six principles, or truths, about innovation from my time spent judging the challenge. Here they are.
Innovation can happen by chance, without a determined effort or specific methodology. But when it does, it's more like luck than strategic progress. While there is a role for serendipity in strategy – being able to take advantage of pleasant surprises -- too often, that's the only way companies approach innovation: with fingers crossed.
Innovation, simply defined, is the process that takes new ideas and implements them in a way that creates value. It's not the same thing as invention, which is an event that occurs at a distinct point in time, often resulting in a single product. Innovation is the extension of invention, the act of bringing things that are invented to market, repeatedly.