“Creativity” and “Innovation” have become very popular terms in business lately as businesses of all sizes (and in all industries) look for ways to disrupt their industries, gain access to new markets, or achieve their missions. Because these are interesting and complex times in the market, businesses are looking to change the terms of the game to achieve these goals.
As IT leaders consider how to deploy their resources in service of these new corporate goals, they are increasingly talking about the need for innovation. But what does innovation really mean in the context of an IT team? Here are a few attempts to define the terms:
Webster’s dictionary defines the word “innovation” as “the introduction of something new” and “a new idea, method, or device.” This definition is fine as far as it goes, but how do we know where to focus our efforts at innovation? Also, it is clear that not all innovations are created equal — there are differences in impact, complexity, cost, and effort to implement. If the new idea will have no real impact or is cost prohibitive, it hardly deserves to be called an innovation.
The Freakonomics podcast recently ran an episode that described creativity as “novelty that works.” From a business technology perspective, I think this definition hits closer to the mark. As leaders, we are not only looking for something new, we are looking for something new that we can actually implement.
The definition needs to go one step further, however. We need novelty that works AND that can be applied to a business problem that needs to be solved. This can come in a variety of forms — a new product or service, a way to automate repetitive tasks, a method to distill new insights from existing data, a way to increase quality or reduce the defect rate, etc. When innovations tie directly to our business goals, it is also easier to assess their value and impact.
So as we are setting up our innovation initiatives, we should focus them on creating things that are new, that actually work, and that are relevant to our organization’s business goals or challenges.