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One of the greatest issues facing innovation managers is to try and explain what innovation actually is. There is no fixed definition, and so inevitably innovation changes its meaning according to where, when and in what context it is used.

In an article for Innovation Excellence*, Braden Kelley tackles the problem head-on and brings his own definition to the table:
“Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into widely adopted solutions valued above every existing alternative.”

He sees defining what innovation means to an organisation as the crucial step in creating a sustainable innovation culture. However, like most attempts at definitions, he too comes from a particular viewpoint, namely making invention the mother of innovation.

In reality, ideas are the mother of innovation (although one could say that every idea is invented.) You do not need to invent a new engine to improve an old one, just think of a way to make it more efficient/quieter/smaller.

However, Kelley does hit on the aspect of value, that the best ideas have both merit and, potentially, monetary value too. In our view, every innovation management system is actually based on the concept of merit; ideas are posted, discussed and rated such that the best ideas rise to prominence. It’s not about the eventual solutions being valued; the process starts much earlier than that. If the initial ideas are highly rated, then it follows that the solution will probably be too. What’s more, a transparent process of selection, evaluation and planning the solution will be far more effective in making it accepted than simply comparing it to alternatives.

Kelley goes on to outline how organisations should define their:

• Innovation Vision
• Innovation Strategy
• Set Their Goals
• Build an Innovation Infrastructure

Drawing on established change principals and the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting framework, Kelley suggests a pathway towards innovation illustrated with examples from Whirlpool and P&G.

When P&G goal set to source 50% of its innovation from outside the company, head of the Connect+Develop programme Chris Thoen, recognised the true nature of the challenge ahead.
“Moving from ‘only invented at P&G’ to ‘proudly found elsewhere’ required a change in mindset. It was important that employees realized that Connect+Develop was not another name for downsizing and outsourcing jobs, but instead, a strategy to ensure sustained business growth for the Company.”

In terms of setting up a persuasive argument for change, Kelley’s is a useful pathway to take, especially in defining what you want to get out of the whole process before deciding which innovation management solution to purchase! Whilst we might disagree with some of the details, Kelley’s overall process of definition is extremely useful in deciding what innovation is in your organisation, why you are doing it, what your vision is and who should be part of the process.