“Can you help our organization be more innovative?” the prospective client asks. “Yes we can,” we reply. And then comes a series of our insightful discovery questions aimed at understanding what they actually mean by “innovation,” plus what they’re trying to accomplish through their innovation efforts.  Innovation itself is not an organizational goal.  Innovation is a strategy for accomplishing something more important, and that “something” may be increased sales, market share, revenue, profits or impact.

Innovation is a means to an end.  When innovation is the desired end state, I get nervous and wonder what book they just finished reading or which pundit they just heard speak.  Usually, we’re able to find out that innovation is a strategy to solving some other organizational issue.  I’ve been involved with leading innovation initiatives in organizations that are looking to address a lack of fresh ideas from the R&D department (a “lack of curiosity” according to the senior leader), organizations that had poor communication among groups, organizations that needed better skills to work across the various barriers in the organization (i.e. up and down the organization, across the silos, among the different geographies, across the various demographic distinctions, or with the various stakeholders), several organizations that had Lean/Six Sigma-ed themselves into a process straight-jacket that blocked new ideas, and organizations that were cost-cutting themselves into mediocrity (“shrinking their way to greatness”). While this is not an exclusive list, it points to the need to identify the real issues.

Innovation is important.  It is vital to organizations that can sustainably grow and continue to develop.  And it requires clear goals and strategies to ensure that innovation is not just the “flavor of the month,” but exists for a clear purpose that will benefit the enterprise and/or the people in the organization.

So ask yourself these questions to gain some clarity:

By answering these questions, you can start to narrow down the focus of your innovation efforts. This focus will help you to be more effective and efficient in your efforts, and will help get beyond the request that “we want to disrupt the marketplace with something new!” There’s nothing wrong with this request, but most organizations don’t have the wherewithal or mindset to make it happen, which makes it a very difficult pathway.

What issue does your organization need to address by boosting its innovation capacity?

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