Innovation is a word with varied definitions and interpretations. I think the definition that makes the most sense is the one given by Jet Blue CEO David Neeleman. He defines Innovation as trying to figure out a better way to do something. I think that’s very much true. Innovation is all about solving problems in a way better than ever done before. When we talk about product development, this definition makes even more sense. Customers are not looking for a product or service, they are looking for a solution of a problem. Addressing those pain points and making improvements in the existing products is innovation.
Innovation is the pursuit of perfection. It is very well said that perfection is a fine goal, but improvement is much more realistic. Perfection is something that is not achievable. There is always a better way to do anything. That is what innovation is – always trying to do something in a better way. What fuels the best innovators in the World? It’s the pursuit of perfection. Innovators can be in any field. One of the greatest innovators to idealize is Tiger Woods. He is someone who has taken the game of golf to the next level. If you ask him what keeps him going, the answer you will get is number 18. So what’s number 18? It’s not the number of majors Tiger Woods wants to win (to match Jack Nicklaus’s World record). It’s the perfect score is golf. The never achievable. That’s where he has set the bar and that’s what keeps him innovating.
Innovation is all about applying creativity. It’s trying to do more with less, get more resourceful, bring the costs down and develop products better than before. Innovation is something that really meets the needs of the society. An innovative product development is looking at what’s out there, what’s bugging the customers and then trying to fix it.
I think this paints a pretty clear picture of what is Innovation. But before we move any further, it’s very important to understand what is not Innovation. Innovation is not trying to hit the home run or finding a killer application. In fact there is nothing like a killer app. Whatever gets the name of the killer app, be it the IPod or the Xbox 360, it is actually improvement over something that already existed in the market. Of course both IPod and Xbox 360 are great innovations, but that’s because with the help of creativity and improvement these products tried to identify and meet the needs of customers in their respective markets. Innovation is not trying to solve problem not tied to anything. Till you don’t have something that solves a problem, you have not done any innovation. Creating something just for the sake of it is not innovation. And of course, last but not the least, innovation is not adding bells and whistles to a product to tick mark the checkbox features to out beat the competitor.
Toyota, the Japanese car maker, is the most common example cited for an innovative enterprise. This is one company that has market worth more than the market worth of all the other car makers in the World combined. So what fueled this amazing growth at Toyota? The millions of innovation that took place in the company over the years. Toyota defines Kaizen, or continuous improvement, as the base of innovation. They have some very simple principles that they follow to keep the innovative machine running. They implement small ideas as close to the front line as possible. They create a standard, follow it and find a better way to do the same thing. Standards are made by people at the front line, not by an uber committee sitting in an ivory tower. And more important than anything else, standards are made to be changed by doing something in a better way. Toyota believes in reflection of success. They evaluate the success and failure at various steps in product development. They focus of failures and try to find out ways to avoid them. The Toyota employees are not just making cars, they are continuously trying to find out better ways to make cars, and are trying to make a car that is better than the one out there.
So does your company believe in innovation? In order to answer this question, take a look at the products and services your company develops. Look at the value they provide to the customers. Are the customers better-off with the help of these products and services? Are these products better than the ones already available in the market? If yes, then you can claim that your company believes in innovation.