• October 29, 2014

The C-Suite Dilemma—What Is Innovation, Really?

We all talk endlessly of innovation. It’s the key to business value. It’s essential to enterprise success. Strategic executives know the cultivation of an innovation mindset is an enterprise imperative. But the devil is in the defining. What exactly is innovation? And how can we get some?

Consider this definition: Innovation is the process of bringing ideas to life in ways that generate value.

The process demands a willingness to listen and change. It requires a vision and evangelists to champion that vision so that people can say, “I know how to help do that.” It entails identifying the tools and processes that matter, and then marshaling the whole enterprise ecosystem—from suppliers and partners, to customers and employees—to support that vision. It demands systems that ensure the supply of ideas aligns with enterprise direction.

Without a willingness to listen and change, you’re not going to be innovative. Without a vision, you’re just floundering around.

Two Sides to Innovation

Like a successful market system, the innovation process has two dynamics: supply and demand. Supply is the reserve of ideas. It’s generated when leadership creates an environment that encourages those in the enterprise ecosystem to bring new ideas forward, to question the status quo. It comes from employees who live and work in that setting.

Demand is the organizational expectation of improvement. It’s the process of setting objectives and ensuring that everyone is clear on how they will be measured. It’s about establishing expectations to “do more with more” using the abundance of capabilities available.

This brings us to one of the most debilitating impediments to innovation: the scarcity mindset. In the past, you never had enough computing, storage, or data. Those limitations are over. Yet almost all enterprise solutions in production today are based on a scarcity model. A context focused on scarcity is a distraction from being innovative, a competitiveness killer.

Teasing Out the Unique

Another way to think of innovation is the process of separating out the normal from the unique. If you then automate the heck out of normal, it gets easier to focus on the unusual. Innovation springs from this fertile ground. Since the enterprise has an abundance of data and computational capabilities, this can happen more and more as we expand our view of what’s possible.

In reality, one of the scarcest resources in the enterprise today is the attention of its personnel. By automating the normal, you can focus that attention on turning anomalies into opportunities and value.

This shift in focus was a driver behind HP’s split into two organizations: one focused on personal systems and printing, the other on enterprise infrastructure, software and services. The split facilitates meeting the needs of each organization’s unique customer base without distraction. Innovation will spring from those particular market pressures.

Bottom line—humans love to be creative. They yearn to do things differently. That’s the precursor to innovation. It’s one of the richest enterprise resources available today. And should be supported as such.