Innovation is a buzz word that many hear, but fewer understand. The success of a culture that embraces innovation is limitless, but how is that done? This essay will define innovation and compare it to the similar concepts of invention and creativity. Related to those concepts is problem solving. The importance of innovation will be stressed as well as the necessities an organization must have to support innovation and success. Innovation Defined
In a way, innovation is problem solving. Innovation is the result of solving a problem, even if that problem wasn’t identified. That solution is a new product or process that is implemented and generates increased value. Usually that value is increased profits. If the new invention that is implemented does not make something better in some way, then the action was pointless. Comparing Concepts
Many people use innovation and invention interchangeably, or consider innovation and creativity the same thing. While these three items are definitely related there are subtle differences. Some might argue these three items are part of a single process. To allow the process to exist, to move forward, there must be creativity. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines creativity as the ability to create or make something new. Having creativity means the potential exists to create something new which leads to invention. The same dictionary defines an invention as something new that was created through study and experimentation. Creativity enabled some new product or process to be invented, and now innovation is the process of applying this new invention to improve something in some way. Arguably a business would like the improvement to be measurable in some way. For example this could be increases in sales or customers, reduced production costs, time saved, etc. This measurement helps support the idea that the innovation had value. Problem Solving
Two ways of thinking in regards to problem solving are the traditional approach and the creative approach. The traditional approach is often used in mathematics and is favored by analytical minds. There are four main steps: define the problem, create a plan, implement the plan, and evaluate the results. In contrast the creative approach has eight steps: find the problem, find the facts, define the problem, generate possible solutions, evaluate the possibilities and select the best one, develop a plan to implement, get support, and implement (Estep, 2005).
The basic similarities between the two processes are that a problem is defined, a plan of attack is created, and then the plan is implemented. The creative plan really has a ninth step and fourth similarity in that the action must also be evaluated for the process to be complete. Without that evaluation, it is impossible to say that the solution solved the defined problem. In reality, this process can be repeated several times before total success is achieved. Analytical or not, a little creativity is needed for successful solution. Importance of Innovation
As defined earlier, innovation is implementing something new to create value. This usually gives the owner a competitive advantage of some sort that has propelled companies to the lead in their industry or even created a new industry. As important as jumping to the lead is, staying there requires innovation to be a constant (Skarzynski & Gibson, 2008). This concept applies to success of individuals, organizations and their leaders, and nations. With individuals, understanding the relationship is easy. Doing the same actions over and over is not going to create something new.
The definition of insanity comes to mind. However, taking time to focus on creative thinking allows innovation to happen and create change. For organizations, tweaking a current high selling product may be okay for now, but without innovation they will end up like Kodak. Innovation must be internalized by the organization to keep it current and competitive. Take companies like Apple, Google, and 3M that dedicate portions of their employees time to just innovation, the results are well known (Skarzynski & Gibson, 2008). We can look at America for an example with national impact.
In the shift towards global markets and competitive pricing, many American companies have outsourced the production of their products. The argument has been made that the cost of outsourcing electronics and other high-tech industries rather than investing in finding ways to produce those components cheaper, is the loss of key skills and abilities. America is failing to live up to its reputation as one of the most innovative countries in the world. Technological innovation can be linked to the success of many of industries, which makes it exponentially important. Without these skills and abilities, growth cannot be achieved (Pisano & Shih, 2009). Growth equals jobs and increased quality of living, which are important for every country to increase. From individuals to nations, failure to embrace innovation can have negative results. Enabling Innovation
Innovation requires time and is supported by diversity. In the hustle and bustle of today’s competitive industries, one of the biggest barriers to innovation is having the time to focus. Combined with the lack of time are the distractions on the limited time available. These include emails, phone calls, meetings, etc., and prevent having time to just think, reflect, and innovate with any focus or clarity. The merit to this argument comes through as the success experienced by companies Google, 3M, and Whirlpool who dedicate portions of their employees’ time for innovation (Skarzynski & Gibson, 2008). Big surprise, white males from suburbia do not make up the majority of the world’s population. Now encouraging ethical, racial, and gender diversity is important, but please do not forget about backgrounds, skill sets, values, and thinking methods which are just as important.
Bringing together diverse groups creates the ability to connect these different perspectives. Similarities increase the pitfall of group thinking which drastically limits the potential success of innovation. In an organization, the greatest potential for diversity exists at the lower levels. These voices should not be ignored, but that will require some understanding and humility from the organization’s leadership (Skarzynski & Gibson, 2008). Arguably, the decisions about which ideas are accepted should not be left to the typical left-brained analytic type thinker, which is often the person in a position to do so. The fix for this can be a simple partnership between a creative mind and a commercial one (Rigby, Gruver, & Allen, 2009). For organizations to internalize innovation, time must be allocated, and diversity must be sought out and valued. Conclusion
Creativity leads to inventions. Innovation implements those inventions to create value. Creativity is also important for effective problem solving, and finding the best solution for the problem defined. That solution should be evaluated after implementation, because the process may need to be repeated. Innovation is necessary for competitive advantage at all levels, from individuals to nations. To internalize innovation, an organization needs to allocate time and seek diversity in their groups. Failure to produce a steady stream of innovation will prevent an organization from keeping the lead in their industry, and throwing money at a stove piped R&D program is not the answer. Innovation must be part of the culture for continued success.
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