Innovation Defined

I was thinking about a class I taught last month.  It was a section on innovation for an MBA product development course.  I teach this class every year and, in the beginning of the class, I ask the students to define what innovation is to them.  I am struck by how much better the answers get each year. 

A few years ago, innovation was more likely to mean inventing things that no one had ever seen before.  The students seemed to have very sci-fi ideas and definitions.  This has evolved, and this year they referred to things that included process improvements, and coming up with new ways to compete. 

Here is my definition of innovation:  Doing something new that adds value to your business.  It could be a product, a service, a new process, organizational structure or business model.  The point is that the organization does something new, and even more important, it adds value to the business.

This means that organizations who want to be more innovative need to be able to recognize and support innovation from every part of the company.  The good thing is that people generally seem more open to the fact that innovation is more than a sci-fi invention, and that they could probably contribute to it.  While this also means that there is no single way to reward it or measure it, there is one thing that remains constant.  In order to be able to do something different that will be valuable, there must be an understanding of the organizational goals. 

Does everyone in your company know what will make your organization successful?  Do they know how their day to day jobs influence that success?  If they don't, then they won't know whether doing something different will add any value.  And then they won't change a thing.