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Jim Stikeleather: What is innovation?

MIX Maverick and Chief Innovation Officer for Dell Services Jim Stikeleather says that for an idea to be innovative it has to be forward-thinking, viable, sustainable, and valuable.

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roy-luebke's picture

Innovation is the creation of anything new that generates economic value.

Innovation is a result. It is the result of a combination of research, invention, creativity and engineering. Don't confuse the result with the process.

The speaker is making this too convoluted and putting qualifiers on the description. He is talking about the principles of design thinking: viable, feasible, desirable. These are important factors that make the result relevant to the end user and profitable for the organization.

Innovation can range from incremental to transformational. There are many areas of innovation including business models, relationships, processes, platforms, brands, channels and customer experiences.

What is critical to understand is the relevance for each individual company relative to their competition. Consumer electronics needs a different type of creativity and relevance than industrial equipment, or medical devices, etc.

Inventive or creative are different elements of a process that delivers innovation.

The whole purpose of delivering an innovation is not to be clever or cool, but to help deliver sustainable competitive advantage to the business. One delivers enough innovation to beat the competition over an extended period of time.'s picture

Roy - I am guessing that we mis-communicated. Gary and I were talking about "innovation" the verb, not "an innovation" or "innovations" the noun. "An innovation" (the noun) comes from either "innovation" (the verb) or serendipity (you accidentally discover or stumble upon "the innovation"). The questions we are exploring is that you cannot run a business by serendipity, you have to have a method to your madness or economic value is just a random occurrence. Sorry to all if that wasn't clear.

In order to have a method (a repeatable sequence of activities that result in a defined outcome) for anything, you have to be able to define and measure the outcome, otherwise you have no way of telling if you have succeeded or failed (or declared victory and moved on). You also do not have a feedback loop to the method / process in order to improve it if you cannot measure the outcome. That is were all the qualifiers come in - they are measures that can be applied to the outcome to then be used to improve the process.

I have to seriously disagree with your comment about creating anything new that generates economic value is an innovation. I am unfortunately (for my checking account) seriously enamored with Breitling watches. My lust has drawn me to the knock offs on more than one occasion (but I have withstood temptation). Those companies created something new (the knock off watch) and create economic value (otherwise they would not still be in business) but I am not sure many would consider their products innovations. LIkewise, in the past consumer product companies got away with changing the packaging (often just the colors used) and touting their "new and improved" product - and created economic value via new (increased sales) - again not something that most would consider an innovation.

Lastly, innovation is not a competitive activity - it is a customer activity, they are the final arbitrators as to what is innovative or not. There were a lot of consumer electronics competitors creating "differentiated" (new, creating economic value because they sold) MP3 players (Zune anyone) but it was a computer company (Apple) that innovated (verb - followed a process that resulted in) an innovation - that was not only the product (iPod) but a service extended product (iTunes) and a whole new business model, and the customers voted. One beats the competition by creating customers.

I would also argue that invention is a wholly different animal - it has been described (from a business perspective) as a process that turns capital into knowledge (think of who invented the computer spreadsheet and thereby created knowledge- visicalc) and innovation is a process that in turn can convert that knowledge back into capital (think of who made money from spreadsheets - microsoft)

We really aren't that far apart in our ideas - take a look at one of my earlier blogs (below). Again, the issue is how to bring discipline and dependable repeatability to a process that many still think is "magical".

bala-subramanian's picture


Your explanation of the result by following a process should clarify the nature of innovation. You have explained very well and clarified how and why of innovation. Here is a link ( ) , perhaps, that might enable societal members as individuals or as legal entities participate and create,sustain and deliver the right kind of innovation, at the right time, right place and right cost and produce the right outcome. I hope to see your's and other's reactions and comments here, as well as at that link.



stikeyoda's picture

Bala - absolutely agree - see my blog on innovation being a process, not serendipity :

For those that are interested, my new book will be out next week (should be up on Amazon then) which focuses on how to build a process for innovation (with the use of the emerging "Cloud" ecosystem(s)).

An intro can be seen here:


bala-subramanian's picture


I looked at those links. The cloud link, the slide 9/15 is significant. We need concurrent to what is done at the political and many other levels, capability at the individual levels as citizens, consumers and many such roles taken by all, to integrate our individual reactions/responses automatically. This capability will produce significant productivity gains and avoid unnecessary costs that are incurred at the national, state and other societal levels. Cloud computing has the capacity to provide this capability; from the new born to the retired; not only in the USA but globally. To create a future, in this post "war & peace" , "boom & bust", "local Vs global", sustainable Vs non-sustainable life-styles, duality/choices eras, we need a societal architecture that will convert knowledge into capital for every-one and not merely for a few and that too after many-a-years of struggles. This societal architecture is with-in reach now with our existing technologies with-out need to invest any new funds to create them.

jim-stiikeleather's picture

Roy - there is a famous Einstein misquote, what he really said is ""It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience."

It is often quoted as "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” or “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

When you take time to deal with precision, define your terms, worry about semantics - you are often accused of being academic (yes, I get that a lot). On the other hand - that is the foundation for the sceintific method, and as a process it has the best track record of any invention (innovation?) of mankind in terms of delivering progress (and eventually economic value).

Innovation today is bandied about rather cavalierly. To make progress and to make it more achievable, then some dimensions of analysis needs to be introduced. For example: