What is Innovation?

Is your organization innovative?

For years now, I’ve spoken with leaders from different organizations that all have the same response to this question. I still ask the question because I truly want to hear what they have to say, but their answers can be summed up like this:

Yes, we’re innovative. If someone has an idea, we’re willing to hear them out.

Some would argue, there’s a serious issue with this approach. It’s opportunistic; not innovative. Most organizations believe if they have done a decent job of tearing down walls between front line employees and leaders, employees will feel the freedom to share solutions to challenges facing the company. Organizations need that! We need employees to provide solutions!

But still, is that innovation?

At Seeds Global Innovation Lab, we believe innovation is proactively generating and executing ideas that create value.

There are three separate components of this definition: (1) proactively generating, (2) executing and (3) ideas that create value. Let’s make our way through them.

1. Proactively Generating

Let’s illustrate.

Jarred is preparing dinner for his family while his 3-year-old daughter, Juney, watches. He switches on the burner then turns to reach for a frying pan. As he selects the pan, Juney reaches for the glowing burner. Jarred now has two options:

  • (A) Yell for her to stop immediately in order to prevent her from getting burned

  • (B) Let Juney touch it this once so she learns her lesson for the future

Any good parent is going to choose option A, right? (Gosh, I hope so!)

Herein lies the problem. Both of these are reactive to a problem already in motion. Jarred reduced his options to A and B simply because he didn’t evaluate the situation first.

There were actually countless solutions to this problem:

  • (C) Wait to turn on the burner until he had a pan in hand

  • (D) Tell Juney “hot” and “Don’t touch”

  • (E) Take Juney out of the kitchen

  • (F) Place an obstacle between Juney and the burner

  • (G) Ask Jessica (Jarred’s wife) to keep an eye on Juney for a second

These options, proactive solutions, were eliminated the moment Jarred turned on the burner. In that moment, he limited himself to a reactive posture.

Innovation is no different. Usually, when we’re thinking about our organization challenges, we’re actually thinking about the ones facing us immediately, not those we could anticipate. Historically, that position served organizations well. However, due to the exponential and accelerated pace of change in today’s world, organizations must spend proactive time focusing on challenges they are going to face in the unknown future.

What if instead of solving reactively, we proactively sought what’s coming and solved for that?

2. Executing

I often ask groups of leaders, “Do you have any ideas for your organization?” The answer is always a resounding Yes. For most of us, generating ideas is not the challenging part. We all have ideas. Many of us have good ideas. However, generating the right ideas is more often the challenging part. But let’s say we got one… an amazing idea that has the potential to revolutionize our organization, even our industry. What do we do now?

This is often where things break down.

If we do not reach the point of execution of the idea and see it to fruition, we’ll never fully realize how impactful the idea could have been. For this reason, our team formed a method for bridging the front-end of innovation (generating) to the back-end of innovation (executing). We believe that innovation has not fully occurred until the idea has been executed.

3. Ideas that Create Value

Creating value deals with either the production of a new organizational resource, or the preservation of an organizational resource. When we produce a new organizational resource (e.g. revenue generation), we create value that can be used to further growth in the organization. When we preserve an organizational resource (e.g. time), we create value that makes the organization more efficient. Both are critical to the success of any organization.

Ideas that do not accomplish either production or preservation of organizational resources should not be executed upon. Unfortunately, it happens… a lot.

We often see ideas get approved that produce little or no serious benefit for the organization. The great downfall of this is not just a loss of organizational resources, but also opportunity cost. Each day employees spend working on a project that does not create significant value is one less day they could have spent on one that does. And to make matters worse, employees know that the project they’re working on is not providing much value. As a result, their morale, productivity, and ultimately confidence in the organization’s leadership begins to plummet.


Innovation is proactively generating and executing ideas that create value.

Leaders must move away from their reactive approaches to organizational challenges and begin to proactively pursue answers to challenges that will soon be upon them. From there, they must create plans to properly execute upon those ideas. And finally, leaders must evaluate ideas on their ultimate value creation potential – whether production or preservation of organizational resources.

So, what could you do today to make your organization more innovative?

Jacob Hancock is the Sr. Director of Performance and Execution at Seeds Global Lab. He holds an MBA in International Finance from Rollins College-Crummer Graduate Business School and is a Certified Change Management Professional.

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