Innovation: What, Why, When and How?

Innovation: What, Why, When and How?

Innovation Lead Graphic

by Dr. Charlie Grantham, co-founder, The Smart Workplace

We believe that The SMART Workplace embeds innovation right into its culture because that builds engagement between employee and company and includes an intentional wide variety of people. All of this results in improved performance.

OK, but just what is this thing called innovation? People throw the term around like it was some sort of Holy Grail but then have a difficult time explaining how to do it. With apologies to Justice Potter Stewart, we need more than a quip about “I’ll know it when I see it’.
The Why of It

The simple reason for why you should innovate is you either do it or your company fades away into obscurity. In today’s highly competitive global world, everyone needs to be constantly pressing to develop new products, new channels of delivery and ways of meeting customer evolving needs.

But even deeper, innovation is the manifestation of the creative ability in an organization. Without the creation and constant and genuine transformation of the business, it becomes stagnant and moribund. Put another way, innovation is continuous brand renewal which insures a company’s sustainability over the long haul.
What is It?

Most people think of innovation of as the creation of a new thing. The next Apple “I” whatever (you know iPhone, iCar, iRobot) ; a revolutionary drug or perhaps the proverbial better mousetrap. It’s more than that in The SMART Workplace. Innovation is about tomorrow, the never never land that is just slightly beyond our grasp yet right in front of us.

True innovation is about establishing new directions, creating new opportunities, starting new pathways – not following the established road. Really it is a process, not a single individual act. That’s why we say that The SMART Workplace makes the process of innovation part of its DNA and culture. It’s part of ‘how we do things around here.’
Hints on How to Do It

This is the tough one. We all know that most Fortune 500 companies don’t have time to innovate as they are consumed by an endless and often pointless tsunami of PowerPoints, emails, and meetings. Innovation doesn’t happen by happenstance. First, people need time to get away from the unyielding pace of ongoing operations. They need down time and alone time to dream, plan and innovate.

One technique we have found very useful in the innovation process is borrowed from the discipline of ‘futuring’. This involves examining trends which impact customers and the marketplace to spot emerging needs. Coupled with a scenario construction process, this can provide descriptions and specifications of just what needs to be created.

Perhaps the best example of a company that specializes in this type of innovation is IDEO. They say it better than we can:

“We envision new companies and brands, and we design the products,
services, spaces, and interactive experiences that bring them to life.
We help organizations build creative culture and the internal systems
required to sustain innovation and launch new ventures.”

That’s how you innovate.
Who Does It?

Typically, independent people, start-ups and small companies are the innovators these days. Then bigger companies buy, hire or rent these smaller businesses. Slowly this is changing. Especially with a shift in workforce demographics older, experienced people are becoming a new source of innovation. Innovators are becoming a ‘normal’ part of the business process. We like to call them the “Creative Catalysts”. Actually, we are going back to a time even before the Industrial revolution where these creatives were the masters of their craft. Today, post information age, they are the ‘artisans of thought’. They are the grain of sand in the oyster that eventually turns into a pearl.

In short, innovation is the process of creating new value for a customer. Fundamentally creative, it is required because the pace of change is increasing. What’s the old saying, “time waits for no man”? Innovation happens when there is time, space and energy consciously devoted to it. Everyone can be an innovator. It is not the exclusive province of 30-something’s.

I’d like to close by circling back to the ‘how’ question. Innovation and sustainability are linked arm in arm. If you want to be around in one hundred years you need to be better at innovation than anyone else in your market. And as I said, the why, what, how and who of innovation is also changing. Part of this continuous change affects you. Going forward, smart organizations will be much smaller than they are today, much of its labor force replaced by technology and robotics. Innovators continue to bring value to organizations in ways robots cannot. More about that in a future blog, but for now, let’s agree that value creation in this new world of work will come from three major innovation roles.

All organization members carry the responsibilities of one more more of these major roles. We group them into categories of leader, manager and, a role we at The Smart Workplace have defined as ‘artisans of thought’. These roles are connected integrally to the organization’s innovation culture. They can be defined as:

Artisans – Creative and innovative contributors to organization design, systems or processes. Artisans may be contractors or employees that may not have formal leadership or management responsibilities.

Managers – Essential facilitators of work, teams and relationships to implement strategy and expand successful prototypes to the larger organization

Leaders – Visionary leaders are engaged advocates for the emerging future that develops shared purpose and vision within the workforce. They make sure the shared vision meets the needs of the market and organization stakeholders.

Innovation Role Graphic

That’s the foundation for innovation in The SMART Workplace. It’s far more than a single brilliant individual. All three roles contribute at all levels of leadership and contribution. These are value-added roles continuously seeking process improvements, innovation opportunities, and stronger connections within the organization. What innovation role are you playing today? What role do you want to play?

If you’re not a SMART Workplace community member yet, join us now and be part of our emerging conversation on being leaders in developing sustainable, SMART workplaces.

From Trina, a special note – For followers of this blog, please note that I am migrating this blog site completely to If you are not a member of TSW community, please join me there since I will eventually fade out this site and post our blog posts only from TSW. Thank you for your subscriptions and interest!

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