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What's your innovation definition?

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So many organizations set out to innovate, but
lose their way close to the finish line. All of the time, money, and energy
invested loom over them like an ominous shadow of failure ready to overtake the
whole scene.

What happened? There was so much momentum, good
will, collaboration, and then'the painful, public crash into the wall.
What is this wall? The revenue expectations of
the business may have not been formally expressed on the front end. Pressure
builds. You see it on the faces of coworkers in the hallways. Things tighten
up. The market has shifted. Competitors have gained ground. All longer-term
projects need to shorten their cycle or cease.   
The scenario above happened in many companies and
departments at companies who are starting their long journey to make innovation
a formal discipline.
A lot of tension gets created, and if harnessed
correctly, it can be useful, creative tension. It would be a mistake and
inauthentic for any organization to try and create rigid tools, processes,
metrics, and even a definition for innovation without having experienced some
of its transformative power first-hand.
If you are trying a new working mode, outside of
the existing paradigm, think of the first trial or two as a learning
investment. You may stumble upon revenue or insights that lead to giant leaps
of both money and inspiration; however, embrace this tension at the right
moment. You have arrived. Now is the right time to begin discussing befitting
innovation definition for your organization.
Do it too prematurely and you risk a bad fit,
which ends up worse than a bloated software implementation that no one adopts
after spending too much money and time on it.
Do it too late and you lack the formal constraints
to drive meaningful business results or cultural changes.
When you are ready to have a filter to sift
innovation, consider drafting a formal definition. While it is easy to draft an
MBA-like set of Innovation criteria to please executives, this may not be the
curative needed to catalyze your organization.
Still, the starter set of a definition, the
baseline, contains these three points. Must be own-able. Must create a
sustainable competitive advantage. Must be based on new market insights.
Yet, there is a problem with this general
prescription. If you already suffer from a cultural bias, the baseline may only
inflate an already chronic tendency.
Consider a company that jumps with an engineering
solution to every synapse in their industry. After seeing their development
costs rise while adding only flat or negative growth for years. Also, the firm
may be damaging their brand equity by release me-too products or following tech
trends without adding anything new to the market.
Adding a tenet to a definition of innovation such
as 'must create an irresistible product experience' could cure a world of ills.
There are many types of tonics for similar
problems that can be embedded into an innovation definition. The point: live
into it and create a custom definition for your organization.
Michael Graber is the
managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic
growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit to learn more.

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