Many companies tout it, people want to work where it’s happening, and, in a recession, big companies pull back on it. The “IT” is Innovation, and many executives today take the approach that “I don’t know what it innovation is, but I know it when I see it.”
Innovation is “any change that creates value,” according to Thomas Koulopoulos, president of the Boston-based thought leadership firm Delphi Group and author of seven books on the subject.
“A lot of what we’ve done in the 20th Century is to innovate the design of something: the look, the appearance, but not necessarily create new value,” says Koulopoulos. This has led many to believe that innovation is just making those changes.
“Focusing just on design in order to fool the consumer is becoming much less effective. Consumers are getting smarter and have access to much more information. The fundamental question that determines innovation from the consumer’s point of view is ‘am I getting more’”?
“You have to create value for it to be called innovation.”
Koulopoulos’ mentor was Dr. Peter Drucker, widely recognized as the father of modern management. Drucker said that “the best way to predict the future is to create it,” and that has never been more true than the present.
When the economy sours – like now – a new rank of entrepreneurs develop and they find new ways to create value. Koulopoulos believes that many great ideas emerge from people who have no choice but to innovate.
“It’s almost like a law of nature. When you’re laying people a lot of people off, they work at home and create their own value. What starts to happen is that smaller organizations start to invest in new ideas that larger companies pay little attention to since they are far too entangled in cost cutting and streamlining. All those entrepreneurial bright ideas incubate in the down cycle only to become the fodder of innovation for larger companies when the market cycles back.”
These ideas create a lot of intellectual property, or “IP.” Ironically, the business model of managing this IP is incredibly challenged.
“We’re in the middle of two eras: how do you protect the value of IP and how do you extract value of IP. Kids have a striking and different view of what it means to protect IP. They don’t put the same value on protection; instead they thrive on sharing and are not as paranoid as the above 20 demographic in how to protect their own ideas.”
The freedom with which ideas are shared on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites seem to be almost fluid with little protection of the value of the ideas being shared. A lot of this occurs because of the collaborative nature of the media and the people using it. This rattles other industries as well.
“In publishing, specifically, there is a culture of legacy and ownership and ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ that is quickly being pressured to give way to a new model of IP and sharing. For example, I was recently surfing and found that Google had scanned the entirety of my last book, “Smartsourcing”, without gaining rights from the publisher! It’s an example of how messy IP will become and how the industry … will not change from the inside-out; it needs to be forced from the outside-in … as a result of breaking the rules to create new rules.”
We all can likely cite examples where companies fall into the “we’ve always done it that way” model. A lot of us want to break the rules from the inside, but innovating solutions can carry some incorrect preconceived notions.
Many people still confuse innovation with the Edisonian view of one person being the innovation. “The lone genius is a model for invention, not innovation,” says Koulopoulos. “Innovation in today’s complex world requires extensive collaboration. Nothing is doing more to change this than Social Media,” a central theme in his upcoming book, “The Innovation Zone.”
Web sites like InnoCentive.com have developed platforms where real money and ideas change hands to grow ideas into sustainable businesses.
“Although we are still at the VERY early stages of understanding social media and how it can be used, there is no doubt that it will profoundly impact our ability to join the best minds to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. We have yet to even remotely understand how powerful this will be. It’s akin to the trouble cell phone manufacturers had when the first cell phones where introduced. When the first Motorola “Brick” phone was put in service, the most ambitious projections for cell phone use by today were for about 100 million phones – and that was considered absurdly optimistic. Today we have 3 billion phones in service.”
“Such is the power of socializing any technology.”
Wayne Kurtzman is a senior marketing analyst who loves the shiny toys of technology and online communities. He has led knowledge management and web analytics practices for startups and larger companies including Intel. Wayne also is active at the international level of Destination ImagiNation, a not-for-profit organization that fosters teamwork, innovation and creative problem solving skills in students from kindergarten through college.