Today, What is Innovation?

Steve Brady starts another great series, this time focusing on innovation as it becomes ever so challenging in today’s technology-centric world.


“Over time I’ve learned, surprisingly, that it’s tremendously hard to get teams to be super ambitious. It turns out most people haven’t been educated in this kind of moonshot thinking. They tend to assume that things are impossible, rather than starting from real-world physics and figuring out what’s actually possible.”  Larry Page, CEO, Google


Innovation.  This word can mean so many things and can evoke so many responses that it perhaps rivals “love” and “war” on the affect scale.  Okay, so that might be a stretch but think back.  When was the last time you were in a meeting, and someone suggested that “we take an innovative approach” to a problem. What emotions did you feel in that moment?  Excitement at the possibilities?  A little fear that you won’t know what to do?  Perhaps even a bit of bewilderment, asking yourself “just what is innovation anyway?”

This word becomes even more challenging in today’s technology-centric world where every breakthrough, every “innovation” seems to be tied to an app, or hardware, or “the internet.”  But does it have to?  Can we be truly innovative without relying on technology?

I believe that innovation “is” a few things, and that it also “isn’t” a few other things.  Over the next few articles I hope to explore just what it is, what it isn’t, and what it can be.

First, let me confess-I am easily taken in by the lure of technology.  That is obvious by simply reading what I have written.  I started the blog here at by presenting Google Glass.  Admittedly a potentially transformative technology, potentially providing new insights into how we operate, and in fact, it can change the way we work, deliver, interact, and live.  Companies are now using Google Glass in many ways, including training for restaurants like KFC, while another company is using Glass across industries such as healthcare and energy not only for training but as part of continuous improvement initiatives.  But the technology, while innovative and new, doesn’t drive innovation alone.

People drive innovation.

That’s why I led with the quote from Larry Page.  This quote, from the “Foreward” to Eric Schmidt’s new book How Google Works, drives home the point that it is people, and their attitude towards problem solving, and their willingness to find solutions, that can lead to innovations.

What companies like those highlighted above are doing with Google Glass is take a new technology, and existing problems, and ask the question “how can we do this?”  By asking that question, and not listening to the many in the media who challenge to value of Google Glass, or argue it is a solution without a problem, they have asked the “how can I” question--and come up with new ways of working.

This same thinking can be used to transform the daily work of logistics and supply chain operations, and potentially break down the walls that have blocked improvement in your company.  Being willing to step away from assuming “that things are impossible”  and being willing, and able, to begin “figuring out what’s actually possible” can open many doors.  And most importantly, being willing and able to encourage this thinking in those around us.

In the next few articles I will step through more of what innovation can be, looking at how we can encourage innovations in our companies.  Think back again to that meeting where innovation was  brought up.  Did your leadership make it clear that you could think beyond impossible? Or did you have that “fear” reaction, and have it because you felt that you were tasked with something impossible?

Leadership needs to make it clear--innovation is welcome, and they are willing to allow people to explore the realm of the possible, rather than the impossible.

So there is the first step in what innovation “is.” It’s people, willing to step away from saying “this is impossible” and start asking “how can we make this possible.”  It’s what put Google Glass on people’s faces.  It’s what got us on the Moon.

And it is how you can transform your business.


NEXT:  Innovation is Analytical


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