AKRI

Thinking : Innovation

There is general agreement that innovation is important in business and industry. Consequently various groups and organisations have invested quite a lot of effort in trying to help organisations to be more innovative. The results of this effort have been a range of interesting reports and models for innovation. Support groups have also been established to promote specific innovatory activities in organisations.

The starting point for this project was to investigate what innovation actually is and develop a clear understanding of this definition. If the meaning of innovation is clear then an organisation should know what it expects to change when it improves innovation. The term innovation is used to embrace a broad range of thought and activity. Some organisations have a need to emphasise certain aspects of innovation whilst others need to emphasise different aspects. This results in a difference between the way various organisations perceive and define innovation. The term innovation can become too general or it can become too focused and it often misleads.

In its most general sense, innovation covers the process of bringing a new product or service into existence. The process starts with creativity blossoming in a supportive environment and ends with the launch of a successful product or service. Many recent innovation projects have concentrated on the second part of the process. This is where a creative idea is transformed into a product through rigorous and accountable procedures. In this area of innovation, an organisation can control many, if not all of the mechanisms of the process. This is also an area where organisations have failed in the past and the effort expended in improving the situation is justified. Developing and carrying out controlled procedures has been shown to be beneficial in many areas of business. This is also a more tangible aspect of innovation than the process of improving creativity for instance. It would however, be dangerous to ignore the creative side of innovation simply because it is more difficult to manage.

Organisations that employ experienced and intelligent staff who possess certain areas of expertise, are bound to generate ideas, good ideas that have considerable potential. There are unfortunately a great many possible barriers to the emergence and then successful implementation of these creative ideas. If an organisation is well managed enough to control its procedures and systems then it should invest effort into controlling or promoting an environment for innovation. This is not a simple stepwise process and it is likely to require different approaches in different organisations.

The motivation to innovate must come from the organisation itself. Consultants and advisory groups can help with elements of innovation, methodology and training but the organisation must have the commitment to see things through. Significantly, the experience and motivation within the organisation may also prove to be the best ways of developing innovation that is tailor made to match the organisations particular needs. The motivation for organisations to innovate stems from the belief that improving the aspects of business that are defined by innovation will lead to a more profitable and/or higher achieving organisation. A number of successful organisations act as testimony to this belief.

Embedding a permanent innovation process within an organisation must have the full co-operation of senior staff from that organisation. Their motivation will mean that they are the best people to implement and maintain the process of innovation. They have the most to gain from success and the most to lose from failure. Therefore, the best place to sow the seeds of innovation is at the senior levels of an organisation. These experienced and intelligent people may already have their own ideas of how to achieve improvements in innovation. Providing them with a greater knowledge and richer understanding of the concepts of innovation will ensure that experience and motivation are applied in the most appropriate ways.

Analysis

Recent work on innovation in business has identified conflict of definition. Some authorities see innovation, not as the process of generating ideas but the process of developing the ideas into a final product. However, not all businesses feel this way and many see the generation of novel ideas as being true innovation. The Collins dictionary shows innovation as ‘something newly introduced such as a new method or device’.

We believe that it is more helpful, and indeed accurate to see innovation as the process of generating 'innovative' ideas and the process of exploiting these ideas as something separate.

This then leads to the question of what constitutes an 'innovative' idea. Innovation is closely linked with creativity and like creativity, innovation is not simply an intellectual task, environment and culture play their parts. One interesting statement concerning innovation is that it is a challenge to custom and practice.

Debate

One of the main issues with our project concerning innovation has been 'is it possible to teach innovation' or 'can people become innovative'? If the answer is that it is not possible to teach innovation, this implies that people are born with the capacity to be innovative or they are not. If it is possible to teach innovation then why is our education system not flooding the market with young people who are truly innovative?

If it is possible to teach innovation then exactly how should this be done? If not and a business for instance, requires innovative people, how does it identify an innovative candidate at an interview.

Since very young children are not usually classed as innovative, when does innovation begin to develop? Will innovation automatically develop in a child with this capacity or is there a further requirement to provide the correct environment?

Sources

A good reference to innovation and innovation management is the report produced by the North West Artificial Intelligence Applications Group as a result of a European ADAPT project carried out in 1998 and 2000.