So what is "Innovation?"

27 Jul 2008|Steve Diller

Many of us offering innovation consulting services are engaged in a relentless debate about the concept. For some of us, “innovation” is about fresh product concepts. Others focus on a broader agenda that includes re-inventing corporate structures. Yet others argue from a more ephemeral standpoint, concentrating on the dynamics of creativity.

Whichever approach you’re taking, if you’re playing in the space, you’re trying to define the nature of this “innovation” thing, because the stakes are so high. If we can get clarity, we can direct all our resources to developing the optimal solutions.

At times like this in the development of a business discipline, it can be very helpful to step back from the “thought leadership wars” and just ask, what do real-life companies think of when they think of innovation? Some sense something missing from their business practices, a certain creativity that generated the business strategy that built their companies in the first place. In other words, they see innovation as an “existential” problem- lose the juice that produced the business in the first place, and eventually you lose the business.

Others don’t worry about their creativity, but center their attention on a “pipeline” that must be filled with something. In other words, innovation is perceived to be about constantly loading your “pipeline” with ammo. Shoot enough BASES-tested ideas at consumers, and some are bound to hit.

There are other perspectives, of course. But I think these two are especially interesting because, well, they may be the most common. The effects of these market perspectives on innovation consultancies are quite complex.

For Cheskin, I think it’s fair to say that we don’t take sides. We know that clients are right to be concerned about both sides of this coin, and we work to understand the combination of factors that produce their concept of “innovation.”

Is this to say that “innovation” is whatever companies say it is? Well, yes, and no. Getting clarity about what a client thinks about when they say “innovation” is a necessary pre-condition for serving them. It’s not a sufficent condition. We also bring a point of view about innovation to the table, focusing on deeply understanding underlying consumer needs. Ultimately, a coming together of perspectives emerges.

So, for us, “innovation” is re-defined every time we begin a conversation with a prospective client. Together, we define it in a way that will bring value to them, and that we can help build and carry out for them.

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