Published on Monday, July 2, 2018

What is innovative?

For our purposes, let’s define it as a “big new” for your business or a “big different” in how you operate your business.


What is innovation and innovating

Innovation is

The act of innovating


Innovating is, of course, being innovative or:

To begin or introduce (something new) for the first time.

All fine and satisfies pedantry, but what does innovation really mean? If it's truly something new or the first time then that means it occured through ideation, exploration, and experimentation.

I think ideation and exploration must go hand in hand. Ideation is the creation, development, and communication of new ideas. New ideas (ones you don't already have) come from observation. That act of observation (again, if you already have an idea, the observation is complete) is done through exploration. You explore things; explore clients doing things with your system, exploration through conversation with clients, exploring different ways of thinking and different ways of doing things. It's that observation that leads to ideas, either as Aha! moments observing day-to-day life or observing planned exploration.

Ideas are theories, they are generally something that someone thinks can work but does not yet have the evidence. Something needs to be done to prove or disprove the idea. If the idea is proved then innovation might have occurred. If the idea is disproved then you don't move forward with it. With theories, success is when it is no longer a theory. That process is called experimentation. There really is no "failure", something is always learned from the experiment. But the business practice of "fail fast" is basically that: perform experimentations and know what isn't going to work as quickly as possible.

How do you stifle or prevent innovation

Another way of thinking about actions designed to prevent failure is that they are actions that focus on ensuring success. Doing things to ensure success and avoid failure is avoiding experimentation and thus exploration. Avoiding failure means controlling as many of the variables as possible to be able to guarantee an outcome, not introduce variables to promote random outcomes.

You'll never be able to come up with many new ideas without exploration, and you'll never be able to prove out new ideas without experimentation (not knowing if you're going succeed or not). And this exploration and experimentation cannot be scheduled (you cannot sit down and say you're going to spend 2 weeks exploring and experimenting in the field of faster than light travel and schedule to start work on delivering it 3 Mondays from now).

The actions and mindset behind exploration and experimentation are in contrast with delivering value. You can stifle and even prevent innovation by expecting innovation efforts to be done within the same process as delivering value.

How do you promote innovation

I started with how you stifle innovation to try to highlight that promoting innovation is mostly stopping the instincts and habits that stifle innovation.

Combat confirmation biases

Confirmation bias is the human tendency to be bias towards ideas and concepts that confirm what we already know. Innovation is introducing new things, not leveraging what we already know. We want to avoid confirming the things we already know and think outside the box. Actively avoiding confirming your beliefs can be hard, habitually and emotionally.

Promoting critical thinking goes a long way to combating confirmation bias.

Promote critical thinking

It may sound obvious but people get better at a skill with training. If you have a set of critical thinkers and have been innovating, that's one thing. If you want to innovate, the right training is essential to purposefully achieving that. Innovation requires good critical thinking skills—not taking things at face value but objectively analyzing and evaluating to form a judgement. A systematic approach to understanding something, focusing on delivering the understanding and not viewing un-forecasted understanding as "failures".

Segregate it

Innovation is the hopeful, eventual delivery of new value. But companies need to be continually delivering value, and delivery value predictably. Those two efforts need to be done in isolation. Experimentation destabilizes delivery and planned delivery constrains/eliminates experimentation. So, the two initiatives must have different vision, different goals, different practices, etc. Thinking your organization "innovates" while not segregating the innovation initiative away from the initiatives delivering value, you're inadvertently stifling innovation. The efforts towards innovation and predictable value delivery need to be separate. The vision, principles, and practices to predicable value delivery is contradictory to the vision, principles, and practices to innovating. The two need to be separate at an organizational level so the organization matches where the two fundamentally diverge.

The initiative to innovate needs to be fed into value delivery, at the right time. Teams that innovate are not usually the best teams to deliver functionality, they're different skillsets and leveraging one in the place of the other isn't efficient and reduces ROI. You actually want less critical thinking when delivering value, not more. Perfection is the enemy of executing and critical thinking often focuses on ways of moving towards perfection.

Measure it!

Anything worth doing is worth knowing it's being done right. Measuring innovation efforts is vital to success. Leveraging an innovation capability is a form of critical thinking: don't let your confirmation biases let you think you're innovating well. Treat the whole processes as experimentation: systematically observe what's going on and make judgments on those observations. Use experimentation to improve the innovation process. The areas that can benefit from innovation probably also need measurement: look to trends, market analysis, etc. to provide the metrics to help prioritize where to innovate.

Other measures might include: tracking innovation through to delivery, resources spent on innovation, resources gained from innovation, what are or have been innovations, leadership metrics focusing on innovation, rate of innovation, areas of innovation, culture (get feedback from those in the trenches to find out how well the effort is viewed and ways of innovating your innovation).


Galbraith, Jay. (February 2012). Designing the Innovating Organization. Retrieved from

Hess, Edward D. (August 2014). Why Is Innovation So Hard? Retrieved from

Hamel, Gary and Tennant, Nancy. (April 2015). The 5 Requirements of a Truly Innovative Company. Retrieved from

comments powered by Disqus