My first memories of a telephone are quite vivid in my mind: It was a big wooden box attached to the wall of the hallway in our house. It had a handle on the side that you had to wind before you could use it. You could talk into a funnel shaped device that came out the front of it, and to listen you picked up a handpiece (Dad called it a receiver) that you put to your ear. It was amazing. Using this device you could talk to the operator who could connect you so you could talk to other people in our town – that was, if one of our neighbours wasn’t already on the line. We shared a single telephone line with our whole street. It was called a party line. Fast forward to 2023 and I have a small portable device that fits in my pocket. From it, I can make phone calls – and video calls – anywhere in the world. That is innovation.
So what is innovation, and why it is important?
While there are a range of definitions for innovation, simply put, innovation is coming up with new ways to do things. Here are some other definitions that are useful in exploring some of the different aspects of innovation:
- Innovation is the unrelenting drive to break the status quo and develop anew where few have dared to go (Steven Jeffes)
- Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things (Theodore Levitt)
- The application of ideas that are novel and useful (David Burkus)
- Anything that is new, useful, and surprising (Drew Boyd)
- The future delivered (Jorge Barba)
- Something new that creates value (Rita McGrath)
- An amorphous shape-shifting energy that is initiated and fuelled by a desire for improvement (Gaia Grant)
It seems to me that there are at least two core themes that come through in these definitions. First, innovation is about doing something new and different – perhaps even radically different. The second is the idea that innovation creates value – in a way that is useful and improves on the way things are now. I like the quotation from Henry Ford when he reflected on the introduction of the Model T Ford: “If I had asked the public what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. The car was both new and different, and created value.
So, as an organisation, why should innovation be important to you? The fundamental reason is simple. The world is advancing at a rapid rate. If you stay still, you will be left behind. But there is more. The drive to continually do better, and the desire to imagine and create the future is at the heart of the most successful organisations.
So, what does that mean to me? Whatever your role in an organisation, you can bring an innovative mindset to your work. How can you do that? Here are some ideas:
- Identify the opportunities: What are the problems that need to be solved? What can be improved? How can we increase productivity? How could we do better?
- Imagine potential solutions: How could we change what we do to solve the problem? Is there a completely different way we could do it?
- Share your innovation ideas: Every organisation has people in it who are open to innovative thinking. Good organisations will foster an innovation culture and have processes to identify and capture innovative ideas. Tap into the people in your organisation that have a passion for innovation and the influence to support it.
- Make it happen: At the end of the day, a great idea is nothing until it is implemented. Be someone who gets it done.
Finally, remember innovation does not have to be big. Sometimes a small innovation can have a massive impact. It was only in 1970 that someone had the idea of putting wheels on the bottom of suitcases. It seems obvious now – right? Interestingly, it wasn’t until 20 years later that a pilot who was sick of dragging his suitcase behind him came up with the idea of having two wheels on one side of the end of the suitcase and a handle at the other end. That was when wheels on suitcases really took off. Now most travellers would not dream of using a suitcase that did not have wheels. A small innovation. Big impact. Most innovation does not deliver that level of positive impact. But, by definition, all innovation delivers value. All of us can contribute to imagining and creating the future.
This article was written by Zane Edwards, Global Director of GRC at LighthouseGRC. Zane is a chartered accountant and has 20 years experience in Government and Private sector GRC management. Not only is he passionate about the digital transformation of governance, but he is also a skilled and influential communicator with extensive national and international experience in a variety of channels, including conferences, radio, television, and video.