I spoke to 26 of the world’s leading innovation experts to get their definition of “innovation”. The variety in their responses may surprise you.

Content

Introduction

Innovation is truly a confusing buzzword which many people love to hate.

Every business leader agrees that it is important. But nobody can quite seem to agree on what it actually is or what it means.

If you ask Google for an innovation definition, it is less than helpful, coming up with over 300 million results with thousands of definitions. Its own definition is pretty much useless: “the action or process of innovating”. Using the traditional sources for a definition such as the Oxford dictionary also doesn’t help much, with their answer being “Make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products”

So I contacted a selection of my fellow innovation experts to see how they talk about innovation with their clients, and compiled the results for you here. I asked them all:

  1. What is your definition of “innovation”?
  2. What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation?
  3. What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation?

The results surprised me. Even amongst the group of industry insiders here who teach and author books on innovation methodologies, case studies and thought leadership, there was a huge variety between the responses. So in the last section of this article, I’ve analysed what everyone said to find the most common themes, to try and see if it is possible to use the common threads to determine the most effective definition you can use.

Let’s get started.

Update March 2022: When I first published this article in 2016, there were predominantly male innovation experts who I got answers to when I sent out a request for input. Since then, I have gotten to know many more great female innovation leaders and wanted to feature their voices as well. So in addition to the 15 original male experts, I updated the article and there are now 11 female innovation experts from around the world as well. It is important to feature a diversity of thought.

Nick Skillicorn

Turning an idea into a solution that adds value from a customer’s perspective

What is your definition of “innovation”: Turning an idea into a solution that adds value from a customer’s perspective

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it?: They talk about it being a company value without actually putting the required level of support behind it to make it happen. Coming up with ideas is relatively easy, fast and cheap, but then those ideas need to be executed. This is where companies often fail, by not providing the required level of time and budget to take a rough idea, refine it, experiment on it and finally turn it into a real solution. Additionally, companies usually think of it just from an internal viewpoint, such as whether they think the offering is being improved when it is updated. In reality, if the customer doesn’t perceive the changes as having value, then they won’t be compelled to purchase it. So it is all about the customer’s perceived value.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it?: Flip it on its head, and look at every new thing you are trying for various customers’ perspectives.

Nick is the chief editor of Idea to Value and also the CEO & Founder of Improvides Innovation Consulting. He was voted one of the world’s top innovation bloggers for 2014 and is a leader in thought leadership on the science of improving creativity. Follow his two twitter accounts here:


David Burkus

The application of ideas that are novel and useful

What is your definition of “innovation”: The application of ideas that are novel and useful. Creativity, the ability to generate novel and useful ideas, is the seed of innovation but unless it’s applied and scaled it’s still just an idea.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation?: The think about products or technology. Innovation is bigger than a product or a technological platform. And in truth, it’s the innovations to organizations and management that precede product or technology innovation anyway. Great leaders don’t innovate the product; they innovate the factory.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation?: Change the conversation? For starters, let’s have the conversation. Conversation meaning a two-way dialogue. Telling employees that “we need more great ideas” almost never works…yet it’s almost always what is done. Instead, let’s open up a dialogue with everyone in the organization about how we can get better at finding, testing, and implementing the great ideas that people are already having.

Podcast link: David Burkus on the Idea to Value Podcast

David Burkus is a best-selling author, award-winning podcaster, and associate professor of management at Oral Roberts University. His new book “Under New Management” is out now. Twitter: @davidburkus

Stephen Shapiro

about staying relevant

What is your definition of “innovation”? Very simply put, innovation is about staying relevant. We are in a time of unprecedented change. As a result, what may have helped an organization be successful in the past could potentially be the cause of their failure in the future. Companies need to adapt and evolve to meet the ever changing needs of their constituents.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? The biggest mistake companies make is asking others for ideas. When asking for ideas, we invite a lot of noise and unnecessary work. Every person inside and outside of your organization has an opinion, suggestion, or idea about how to improve things. The reality is that most of these ideas won’t be effective in producing positive results. Organizations that spent too much time on idea collection, implode from the weight of all of the ideas.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? For the most effective results, focus on the question, not the solution/idea. I have done a number of studies that show that when you ask people to think outside the box, you reduce the quality of your solutions. By asking more abstract questions, you increase the noise, lower the value, and reduce the relevancy of solutions. The issue isn’t that you need to expand the box. Quite often you are simply looking in the wrong box!

Framing the challenges correctly is a critical key to innovation. For example, bicycle safety advocates have been pushing for mandatory helmet laws. But the real goal is to improve safety. And numerous studies show that safety is greatly improved when there are a large number of cyclists on the road. Ironically, helmet laws have been shown to reduce the number of riders. Solving the problem of getting helmet law compliance is not the same as increasing riders.

Podcast Link: Stephen Shapiro on the Idea to value Podcast

Stephen Shapiro is an Innovation Instigator, Hall of Fame Speaker and Author. His books include Best Practices Are Stupid and Personality Poker. Twitter: @stephenshapiro

Pete Foley

a great idea, executed brilliantly, and communicated in a way that is both intuitive and fully celebrates the magic of the initial concept.

What is your definition of “innovation”? I define the innovation process as a great idea, executed brilliantly, and communicated in a way that is both intuitive and fully celebrates the magic of the initial concept. We need all of these parts to succeed. Innovative ideas can be big or small, but breakthrough or disruptive innovation is something that either creates a new category, or changes an existing one dramatically, and obsoletes the existing market leader. We can obsolete ourselves or someone else, and it can be ‘sexy’, or address a basic human need – both the iPad and disposable diapers qualify for me. But it needs to either create a new market, or radically change an existing one.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? We need to stop calling everything breakthrough or disruptive, especially in internal company discussions. It is more than OK to have a balanced pipeline of big and small ideas, and we need to get comfortable with that again. If we demand nothing but disruption or breakthrough, (delivered tomorrow and on small budgets) then that is all people want to work on, and to accommodate this, everything gets labeled in those terms. But language matters, and once we start calling good but smaller ideas breakthrough, we lower the bar. This is a recipe for mediocrity, and is one of the reasons why so many companies struggle with too many small initiatives and not enough big ones.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Make a long-term investment in innovation culture. Strategy is important, but it is culture that drives most of the smaller, often largely unconscious decisions that permeate an innovation organization. Big ideas take time, productive failure, communication, and collaboration. These are enabled by a culture that protects, and to some degree nurtures big ideas, and innovative, fearless people. I’m not sure if this qualifies as simple, but I think it is essential, and often overlooked.

Pete Foley is a Consultant, Innovator, Artist, Scientist, Photographer, Musician, Accountant and Blogger, with 25 years experience of Innovation and Behavioral Science in the Fortune 50. Twitter: @foley_pete

Gijs van Wulfen

a feasible relevant offering such as a product, service, process or experience with a viable business model that is perceived as new and is adopted by customers

What is your definition of “innovation”? An innovation is a feasible relevant offering such as a product, service, process or experience with a viable business model that is perceived as new and is adopted by customers.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? Companies lack focus in their discussions on innovation. Often there’s a senior manager experiencing an urgent need for something new, fueled by a business challenge. A new competitor may have entered the market; revenues may have decreased dramatically or a big contract has been lost. One essential point is often missed at the start: innovation ideas for what? That’s the question! When you focus your innovation efforts, you’re much more productive. You should start innovation choosing a clear focus.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? Don’t accept the status quo. Innovation means coming up with something really new: a big idea. When you fully accept the status quo at work or in your personal life nothing will change. There’s a wonderful quote by George Bernard Shaw: The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. Innovation often starts with something that annoys you personally and is relevant for you. Something you personally really want to change, because you need to. It’s the WHY for innovation.

Video Link: Gijs’ interview with Nick

Gijs van Wulfen is a Linkedin influencer and the author of the FORTH Innovation Methodology. Twitter: @gijsvanwulfen

Kevin McFarthing

introduction of new products and services that add value to the organisation

What is your definition of “innovation”? the introduction of new products and services that add value to the organisation.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? Companies often confuse invention and innovation; they’re different things.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Companies should really listen more to their consumers and customers.

Kevin McFarthing was voted #1 blogger on innovation in 2015 by Innovation Excellence. He is an expert in Innovation Management, Open Innovation and R&D. Twitter: @InnovationFixer

Robert Brands

Any variation goes as long as it includes new and it addresses customer needs and wants

What is your definition of “innovation”? Not an easy answer: Innovation needs to be defined and agreed upon in each organization, making sure it is strategically and everybody is aligned. Without it, misalignment results in less than optimal focus and results. As long as it includes “new” and it addresses customer needs and wants, any variation goes.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? Innovation is not just Idea generation. It should encompass all Ten Imperatives to Create and Sustain Innovation, from Inspiration to Results; a structured repeatable process needing continued reinforcement and continuous improvement.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? Since it is “Innovative or Perish”, the ideal thing an organization can do is set a clear and simple goal, like “At least one new product per year” that can be adopted and understood at all levels. However, make absolutely sure objectives and rewards are aligned.

Robert Brands is known at the Innovation Coach®, is a serial entrepreneur and innovation practitioner, workshop facilitator, author and speaker. Twitter: @innovationrules

Paul Hobcraft

the fundamental way the company brings constant value to their customer's business or life, and consequently their shareholders and stakeholders

What is your definition of “innovation”? the fundamental way the company brings constant value to their customers business or life and consequently their shareholders and stakeholders.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? They confuse it with invention, they use it to define anything new, they forget it has to contribute new value and be valued by others as better than what they have known.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Placing innovation into the core of the organization’s thinking changes the conversations, it alters the time horizons, it shifts the whole dynamics of where to go to grow and sustain the organization for the future.

Podcast Link: Paul on the Idea to Value Podcast

Paul Hobcraft has been advising numerous organisations on innovation for over 15 years and is consistently considered one of the world’s top innovation bloggers. Twitter: @Paul4innovating

Mike Shipulski

work that delivers new goodness to new customers in new markets, and does it in a way that radically improves the profitability equation

What is your definition of “innovation”? work that delivers new goodness to new customers in new markets, and does it in a way that radically improves the profitability equation.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? Companies do creativity when they should do innovation. There can be no innovation without commercialization.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? Move from idea generation to product commercialization.

Mike Shipulski is an innovation thought leader, focusing on defining best practices and tools for Product and Technology Development and embed them into company culture. Twitter: @MikeShipulski

Paul Sloane

Creativity is thinking of something new. Innovation is the implementation of something new.

What is your definition of “innovation”? Creativity is thinking of something new. Innovation is the implementation of something new.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? Many companies make grand statements about their commitment to innovation but do not invest in the time, people or money to prototype innovative ideas.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Commit the resources to a good staff ideas scheme with the target of implementing at least 5 ideas per employee per year.

Paul Sloane is a Speaker, Facilitator and Author, specialising in entertaining talks & workshops on creativity, lateral thinking & innovation. Twitter: @PaulSloane

Jeffrey Baumgartner

is the implementation of creative ideas in order to generate value, usually through increased revenues, reduced costs or both

What is your definition of “innovation”? the implementation of creative ideas in order to generate value, usually through increased revenues, reduced costs or both.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? They confuse creativity, especially idea collecting, with innovation.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? Put more women in top management. Research studies have shown it improves the success rate of innovation, and also the bottom line.

Video Link: Jeffrey with Nick interview

Jeffrey Baumgartner is an author, keynote speaker and workshop facilitator specialising in creativity and innovation, and writer of the long-running industry newsletter Report 103. Twitter: @creativeJeffrey

Stefan Lindegaard

I try not to define “innovation” as we should tone down our use of the word and term

What is your definition of “innovation”? I try not to define “innovation” as we should tone down our use of the word and term.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? They talk too much about innovation. They should get back to basics.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Stop talking about innovation. Focus on corporate transformation – in most cases, this should be driven by digitalization and disruption issues.

Stefan Lindegaard is the Chief Transformer at Transform – or Die! Author, speaker and advisor focusing on corporate transformation based on digitalization, disruption and innovation. Twitter: @lindegaard

Drew Boyd

anything that is new, useful, and surprising

What is your definition of “innovation”? anything that is new, useful, and surprising. That last criteria, surprising, tends to ‘surprise’ people because they usually don’t hear many people talk about it. For me, a great innovation are the simple ones that make you slap your forehead and say, “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?”.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? The biggest mistake companies make is not taking stock in how innovative they already are. I’ve worked with some of the most innovative companies in the world whose employees moan that they’re not innovative enough, or that they desperately want a “culture of innovation.” It’s crazy. So I tell companies they don’t have an innovation problem. They have an employee perception problem. My best guess is that employees get frustrated when they see their company kill a viable project in favor of other priorities. It wears them down.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? A simple thing companies can do to change the conversation about innovation is to train it. Set up formal courses teaching systematic methods of innovation like SIT and TRIZ. Teach people about idea management, idea selection, and pipeline development. In other words, see innovation as a competency like leadership or ethics.

Drew Boyd is Co-author of Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results. Innovation practitioner, professor, blogger, and speaker. Twitter: @DrewBoyd

Michael Graber

New, organic value creation by applying creativity, in-depth relationships with consumers and customers, and new thinking.

What is your definition of “innovation”? New, organic value creation by applying creativity, in-depth relationships with consumers and customers, and new thinking.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? Because innovation is a process, they bucket it as a value engineering process, rather than a value generation process.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Live it. Host workshops. Bootcamps. Show executive support for innovation projects.

Michael Graber is Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Southern Growth Studio, and has a particular focus on innovation, to deliver high-impact go-to-market strategies and product launches. Twitter: @SouthernGrowth

Jorge Barba

the future delivered

What is your definition of “innovation”? something new or different that delivers value to the world, with the key criteria that I’m not innovating if I’m not bettering people’s lives. Put simply, it is the future delivered.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? Mistakes are too many, one is punishing people for trying new stuff. Leaders that want to build an organization that innovates consistently must provide six things to employees: freedom, resources, diverse teams, support, encouragement and challenge. In other words, you can put it like this: Have bold goals, get out of the way and reward people for trying.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? Companies, just like people, get in their own way. So ask, how are we impeding people from doing the things necessary that drive innovation? Then stop doing that and start doing that does.

Jorge Barba is an innovation insurgent and a partner at Blu Maya, an innovation consultancy helping ordinary companies become extraordinary. Twitter: @jorgebarba

Rita McGrath

What is your definition of “innovation”? I think of it as something new that creates value. That could be a new product, of course, which is what people usually think of. But it can also be a new process, a new combination, a new workflow – really across the board changing the existing order of things, but in such a way that new value is created.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? I think the biggest mistake is to fall victim to innovation theatre. We send people off to Silicon Valley, we have boot camps where thousands of innocent Post-It notes go to die …but it all goes exactly nowhere because we haven’t built the practices in the organization to transform so that the significant new things can take their rightful place in the organization’s future. To do it for real requires ideation, of course, but then incubation (going from an idea to something you could get customer feedback from) to acceleration (bringing the new thing to market).

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? The simplest is to put it in the #1, #2 or #3 slot on everybody’s agenda. Just paying attention to it in the midst of all the hubbub of today’s business is a huge positive thing. Then, have a process for aligning strategy (which pulls you forward) with budgeting (which anchors you backward) with project governance (which is usually a total mess) with people’s incentives. I’ve been working on a tool to help with that, but it is really hard.

Podcast Link: Rita on the Idea to Value Podcast

Rita McGrath is a best-selling author, sought-after speaker, and longtime professor at Columbia Business School. As one of the world’s top experts on innovation and growth, Rita’s work is regularly published in the Harvard Business Review. She is consistently ranked among the Top 10 management thinkers in the world and was ranked #1 for strategy by Thinkers50. Twitter: rgmcgrath

Tiffani Bova

 

What is your definition of “innovation”? Innovation must be rooted in improving competitive advantage, customer needs, employee expectations and now, sustainability. Innovation should make a difference, add value, have a positive impact and increase capabilities of businesses and consumers alike.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? They mistakenly think the term innovation refers to only big, multi-year, heavy investment, ‘revolutionary’ changes. Which means they do not believe small changes over time, failing, learning and adjusting can or will have a meaningful impact. They also don’t believe that innovation can happen by co-creating with customers or partners, or that you can rely on a strategic partner to innovate on your behalf. They could not be more wrong. Innovation can be any or all of those.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? You can’t change the conversation or perspective if you don’t know where your starting point is. Agree on an internal definition at your company – solicit input from all over the organization, not just those in product development, IT and the C-Suite. Once you have agreement, align all innovation initiatives, metrics, rewards, organizational structure and investments to that vision.

Tiffani Bova is the global growth evangelist at Salesforce and the author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book GROWTH IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business. Bova has been named to the latest Thinkers50’s list of the world’s top management thinkers. Twitter: Tiffani_Bova

Natalie Nixon

What is your definition of “innovation”? An innovation is an invention converted into scalable value: that value could be financial, social or cultural value.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? They don’t bother to clearly define innovation and therefore people end up talking over and around each other. There needs to be a lingua franca for innovation in an organization- to make sure everyone is on the same page. If we don’t have clarity on our present state (i.e., ‘What do we mean by innovation?”, it will be challenging to forge the path towards an innovative future state.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? The main thing is to start with creativity- understand that creativity is the engine for innovation. And I don’t mean the creativity that we only see artists do so well- I am referring to our ability to “toggle between wonder and rigor to solve problems”. Companies must hire for creativity and incentivize creativity by dedicating budget, time and people resources. One first step is to design the space and the time for the wonder (deep curiosity, audacious dreaming, awe and pausing) and for the rigor (focus, mastery of skill and discipline).

Podcast Link: Natalie on the Idea to Value Podcast

Creativity strategist Natalie Nixon is “the creativity whisperer for the C-Suite”. She is a highly sought after keynote speaker, valued for her accessible expertise on creativity, the future of work and innovation. Twitter: natwnixon

Whitney Johnson

What is your definition of “innovation”? You approach a problem or challenge in a way that turns out to be better than before

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? It is often too abstract and too narrow all at once. What do we mean when we say innovate? Do we mean innovate around products, processes, people? All of the above? What metrics will we use to know that our innovation has been successful?

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Innovation starts on the inside. Deliberate self-innovation (changing one small thing––like committing to really listen and consider an idea that a colleague has proposed, not just to dismiss) will give others permission to self-innovate. A myriad of small self-innovations will lead to large, wholesale innovation across your organization.

Podcast Link: Whitney on the Idea to Value Podcast

Whitney Johnson is CEO of the tech-enabled talent development company Disruption Advisors and teaches the S Curve of Learning to managers and companies as both a keynote speaker and a frequent lecturer for Harvard Business School’s Corporate Learning. One of the top ten business thinkers in the world as named by Thinkers50, Whitney is an expert at smart growth leadership. Twitter: johnsonwhitney

Fabienne Jacquet

What is your definition of “innovation”? “Something New that creates Value”. “Something” can be a product, a service, a process or a business model. “New” is relative as it can be new to the world, your industry, or your organization, with different impact levels. “Value” is the most important word of the equation as it is not limited to revenue but taps into emotional benefits and depends on the context in which the innovation is used.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? Managing innovation as a they manage business, driven by performance and KPI’s, and checking the Innovation box when they have a beautiful process in place.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Beyond data-driven processes, focus on their human potential in terms of creativity and emotions: empathy, intuition, collaboration,… to create innovative solutions that emotionally connect with consumers.

Podcast Link: Fabienne on the Idea to Value Podcast

Fabienne’s mission is to empower organizations and individuals to recognize and value feminine and masculine traits associated with innovation. Organizations of any size and type can put these traits to work together in service of more meaningful and sustainable innovation. Twitter: innoveveLLC

Gaia Grant

What is your definition of “innovation”? Innovation is typically described as the application of ideas that are both original and practical. Yet I think innovation is a much more nebulous concept – more of an amorphous shape shifting energy that is initiated and fuelled by a desire for improvement. Creative and critical thinking, which can enable the ability to generate novel and useful ideas, provide the critical ideal starter conditions for innovation. The creative part is where the process can get messy and unpredictable. Ideas are fashioned like shapes out of clay and continually formed, destroyed and reformed through the process of experimentation. Once a specific unique form takes shape that is deemed to be potentially workable, it can then be tested, developed, matured and applied at scale through more rigorous critical processes. Ideas can then grow into robust practical innovations of value.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? I could name a few mistakes.

Firstly, while many companies will latch onto innovation as a trend and talk about it incessantly, yet if you scratch beneath the thin veneer of the glossy brochures and websites there is often not enough depth behind the concept. Are there opportunities for creative and critical thinking – for experimentation and open investigation? Have employees been provided with the tools and skills development that can ensure this process happens deliberately rather than simply haphazardly? Are there systems and structures in place that will assist with the generation, progression and implementation of developing and implementing fledgling ideas?

There can be a hesitancy or outright fear when it comes to going deeper too. How many organisations want to fully embrace innovation when they understand the potential implications of unleashing the power of innovation in the organisation (if they appreciate what it can mean in practice). Few companies therefore truly commit to supporting innovation. Although the term will invariably feature in the values and vision statements of the best and brightest companies. But what company really wants to risk challenging the status quo and committing to a destructive process that can lead to unknowable outcomes?

Additionally, many people in companies want to jump straight to the solution or final innovation and skip the creative and critical thinking stages. But then they inevitably come up with mediocre results. I think it’s also a concern when I hear about innovation being used purely in reference to technical developments, as that is just one potential application. Innovation can be present in any context, and in organisations innovations can be improvements to any products, processes or services.

Finally, to me any reference to innovation in the organisation context should also focus on the leadership approaches or practices that will help shape a culture and ensure sustainability. Ideas can only flourish and grow roots where they are well supported, and this is why a lot of great ideas wither and die before they have had the chance to get established.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? I’m going to recommend two simple things:

First – don’t just think you can jump into innovation without first focusing on creating a culture of creative and critical thinking. It is important to address the blocks to creative and critical thinking (both psychological and environmental) and then encourage the development of the right mindset and skillset to ensure there is an innovation-ready culture. Try asking ‘What is stopping me / us from innovating? What can we do to address that obstacle?

Second – develop an ambidextrous approach that facilitates both creative and critical thinking. This will need to start with the leaders, who set the tone. Leaders will need to understand how to apply the principles of ambidextrous leadership – which involves recognising your own bias towards either exploration (eg through a focus on creative thinking) or preservation (eg through a focus on critical thinking). This can lead to an understanding of how to support the development of both breakthrough new ideas, and incrementally building on established ideas that work. Leaders will need to become ambidextrous in their approach to deal more effectively with the complex competing demands of our current rapid change world. Try identifying individual preferences to encourage personal awareness of how to leverage and complement strengths, and do an innovation audit on the organisation with both of these perspectives in mind to see if both are adequately incorporated.

Podcast Link: Gaia on the Idea to Value Podcast

Gaia Grant, is the MD of Tirian Consultancy, a keynote speaker, researcher on innovation culture and sustainability at Sydney University Business School, a global innovation culture consultant, and bestselling international author. Twitter: gaiagranttirian

Diana Kander

What is your definition of “innovation”? Innovation is creating new value. I often compare innovation to invention, which is merely creating something new. There are a lot of inventions that aren’t providing value to anyone, these are failed products. And the person who gets to decide whether the new idea creates value is the customer, not the inventor.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? They don’t think about innovation as an iterative process. Because there are so many unknowns when innovators are doing something that hasn’t been done before, they often need multiple tries to get it right. Many large organizations spend the full budget on version 1, and shut the project down when it doesn’t meet expectations. Many more corporate innovation projects would be successful if they had the opportunity to pivot and try again.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? I think many companies underestimate the importance of psychological safety to an innovative environment. I’ve worked with many organizations filled with employees with incredible ideas that they don’t feel safe to share.

Podcast Link: Diana on the Idea to Value Podcast

Diana Kander is a New York Times Best-selling author, entrepreneur, innovation consultant, and keynote speaker who asks some big questions. Twitter: dianakander

Esther Emmily Gons

What is your definition of “innovation”? The process of creating new value (for the planet and) for customers that can sustain through a working business model.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? To treat all innovation in the same way. Introducing a new green product for hair care, for instance, cannot be brought to success in the same way as searching for a new business model around intelligent energy balancing for more sustainable homes. Risk is much higher in the latter. The timelines are longer, and a certain amount of complexity needs to be overcome. By evaluating them in the same way, less risky projects that have an immediate value for the company will always be prioritized over possible future value for customers.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Create clear definitions for the types of innovation recognized in your company. Giving them recognizable names helps. For each type, determine the process and method that belong to it. Doing this makes it straightforward for everyone how to behave and what to do, which will make it easier for people to change their mindset. Make sure that the types you identify are from a managerial perspective. For instance, I am a big fan of social innovation, but identifying this as a type only confuses people if they cannot understand what process or method they should use to pursue it. Social innovation can be any type of innovation from the perspective of how you should treat it. It is more effective to make it a strategic goal for all types of innovation to contribute to people and the planet than to identify it as a separate type.

Podcast Link: Esther on the Idea to Value Podcast

Esther Gons is the co-author of The Corporate Startup, winner of the 2019 Golden Axiom Business Book Award and the 2018 Management Book Of The Year Award. She is also the co-author of the recently released book Innovation Accounting, and the founder and CEO of GroundControl. Twitter: wilg

Karin Hurt

What is your definition of “innovation”? Approaching every situation saying “how can we make this better?”

What mistakes do companies often make when they talk about innovation? Being so focused on Innovation with a capital “I,” that they don’t encourage and teach employees to look for micro-innovations that would make incremental improvements that can really add up. In our Courageous Cultures research, 49% of employees said they’re not regularly asked for their ideas, 67% said their manager operates around the notion that “this is the way we’ve always done it, and 40% said they lack the confidence to share their ideas. Companies who teach critical thinking and problem solving at every level will have a distinct competitive advantage when it comes to innovation.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Create clarity, cultivate curiosity, and respond with regard. Clarity: be very clear that you really do want people’s ideas and give them enough strategic context so they can think bring you ideas you can use. Curiosity: proactive ask people for their ideas. Respond to ideas (even if you can’t use them) with gratitude, information (what will happen with the idea), and an invitation to continue to contribute more.

Podcast Link: Karin on the Idea to Value Podcast

Karin is a former Verizon Wireless executive, and an Inc. Magazine Great Leadership Speaker. She inspires and guides leaders with Live Leadership Development programs; her weekly video blog, Asking For a Friend; and four books. Twitter: letsgrowleaders

Robyn Bolton

What is your definition of “innovation”? Something new that creates value

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? They use innovation as a “one size fits all” term rather than defining a few types of innovation, each with its own purpose (improve the business, extend the business, create a new business), timeline, and risk profile. Leadership delegates it to individuals or small teams. They treat it like a hobby – there are no clear goals and they focus on it only when times are good and resources are plentiful. They do it as part of an event (shark tank, hackathon, field trip to Silicon Valley) rather than a discipline that is simply part of how they do business.

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Define at least 3 different types of innovation. Leaders need to actively engage with teams and role model the mindsets and behaviors that allow innovation to flourish (which are often the opposite of what is required to manage the existing business). Pursue 1 project that can prove to the organization that innovation is possible and is not the latest “management flavor of the month”

Podcast Link: Robyn on the Idea to Value Podcast

Robyn Bolton founded MileZero to combine the best theories and frameworks in the world with a relentlessly practical and collaborative approach so that my clients will quickly realize the potential of their businesses, get real results, and build the capabilities and confidence to continue innovating. Twitter: RM_Bolton

Janet Sernack

What is your definition of “innovation”? We do not prescribe a definition of innovation, instead, we initiate a creative conversation with clients, to facilitate their own definition, depending on their unique context and strategic intent for innovation. Our starting point usually is – “innovation involves change or something different that adds value” focussing on the words – “change” how innovation usually involves systemic change for it to be successful, “different” how innovation involves learning how to be, think and act differently, and finally on “adding value” how it needs to result in an outcome that adds value to the quality of their user or customers lives, in ways they appreciate and cherish. We then expand the creative conversation ” Innovation is about successfully bringing the new to the world differently” and facilitate a response around what “successfully bringing the new to the world means” in their context, and ensure that it is aligned to their strategic intent, and that to do it “differently” requires consideration of the type of innovation they are pursuing (incremental, breakthrough, disruptive and differential) reinforcing that there is no “best” type.

What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? Some of the biggest mistakes companies make when they talk about innovation, include:

  • thinking that doing agile makes them innovative, when there is a huge disconnect between what an agile transformation promises and delivers and what developing an innovative culture, leadership, team and people capability involves.
  • lack of strategic alignment, in other words, no clear purpose or clearly defined outcome from innovation, and a lack of a strategic focus as to what type of innovation to pursue
  • think its just about technology, when its really about people and technology,
  • lack of commitment and investment to the deep and continuous learning processes required to embed and sustain innovation into behaviours, systems, and symbols,
  • lack of understanding of the role of systemic and cultural change needed for an innovation initiative to be effective and successful,
  • not developing a psychologically safe environment for people to experiment, make mistakes and learn from both doing and failure,
  • lack of understanding that collaboration, accountability, and inclusion are the key anchors for embedding and sustaining innovation

What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation/perspective about innovation? Be open-minded, and open-hearted and unlearn what has worked in the past, and adopt a beginners mind to relearn what will work for their organisation in the future, considering that innovation involves both a strategic and a systemic focus, and in both people and technology, depending on their purpose and unique context for innovation.

Also important are:

  • an investment of time and money in change management (building peoples readiness and receptivity),
  • enable collaboration between people and technologies across boundaries (breaking down silos and barriers to share knowledge, skills, experiences, and data),
  • an external focus on users, customers (finding openings, niches, new markets where they can create and deliver value),
  • and invest in deep and continuous learning (upskilling people be, think and act differently) in the 21st century and build their capability to adapt and grow through disruption).

Podcast Link: Janet on the Idea to Value Podcast

Janet has over 30 years of global experience consulting and leading culture development, change management, leadership, team and innovation learning interventions to some of Australasia’s and Israel’s top 100 companies. Twitter: JanetSernack

Analysis of the innovation definition

As you can see by all of the responses above, every expert has their own views on what innovation is and how companies can improve it. Some of them even rightly point out that it’s become a bit of a buzzword and perhaps we shouldn’t be looking for a singular definition as it will vary based on circumstance.

But after going through all of the responses, it became clear that there are definitely some underlying themes that crop up again and again.

Here is my analysis of the most-cited aspects of innovation according to this selection of thought leaders:

0%
Having an idea
0%
Executing the idea
0%
Addresses a real challenge
0%
Add value to the company
0%
Add value to customer
0%
Different perspective / thinking
0%
Moving forward
0%
Definition not important
0%
Addressing new market

Based on all of these factors combined, if we were to create the ultimate innovation definition, it would be:

The ultimate definition of innovation

Executing an idea which addresses a specific challenge and achieves value for both the company and customer

Executing an idea which addresses a specific challenge and achieves value for both the company and the customer

So there you have it. The ultimate innovation definition, put together based on the analysis of some of the world’s greatest innovation thought leaders.

I hope you have found this article useful and insightful. We publish thought pieces about innovation and creativity frequently, and they’re all available for free along with numerous other benefits if you sign up for our free membership. You should do it now. And don’t forget to share the article too.

Did you like the article? Which definition do you use in your company? Or do you disagree with any of the points made by the experts here? Let us know in the comments below (we read all comments)

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.