What is innovation?


in·no·va·tion (/ˌinəˈvāSH(ə)n/)—noun.

Conversations about innovation tend to throw sparks. I’ve always thought sparks are pretty stinkin’ cool. I’d be the kid sitting staring at the bonfire as it roman-candled orange-glowing sparks high into the black night sky. But what is a spark? Technically, a spark is a small fiery particle thrown off from a fire or produced by striking two hard surfaces such as stone or metal together. Sparks bring light. Sparks can ignite. And ideas are just mental sparks, right?

Ideas—if they’re good ones—are like fiery particles that shoot out into dark places bringing light—illuminating areas previously unseen. Ideas are born out of the collision of minds, hearts, or worldviews carefully thinking and feeling through new ways of solving core human problems, tensions, or challenges. Ideas—if they’re great ones—can also ignite innovations.

So as we begin this journey of learning around innovation, let’s bat around a foundational question together: WHAT IS INNOVATION? Seriously, how would you define it? Would you post yours here?

Here’s our team’s shot at it. And it’s far from perfect. But it’s a strong starting point.

Innovation is the process of imagining and creating something new (a product, ministry, process, service) that adds value to people.

Question for you: if this sentence was a family, which words would be the parents and which would be the children? From my view, the words “new” and “value” are mom and dad, and the words “imagining” and “creating” are the kids. But “process” is God.

Notice that every word adds unique personality and value to the “family.” Also, the definition is designed to be broad enough to encompass anything in the for-profit or non-profit worlds.

First and foremost, innovation is a process. It’s not a pill you pop or a wand you wave. It’s a time- consuming, arduous process (which we call “EDIPT”—but more on that in later posts). But it’s also imagining and creating. In other words, innovation is not simply having an idea ricochet around in your skull. Innovation goes beyond mere imagination to implementation—executing on that idea, creating something new out of it. We usually think of this “something new” as a tangible product, like an iPhone or Tesla Model 3 or Crocs. But something new can also be something less tangible, like a ministry, a process, or a service. And this new something is only anything if it adds value to people’s lives.

If someone held a gun to our head to make us condense our definition of innovation down to a concise phrase that could fit on a t-shirt, we could say that innovation is simply “newness for value.”

Understood this way, in this space, we’re going to explore innovation from dozens of angles:

• We’ll talk about the WHY behind the WHAT—why we need innovation now more than ever.

• We’ll show mugshots of the enemies of innovation in our minds and team culture dynamics.

• We’ll declare war on Fear—Public Enemy #1 of Innovation. And we’ll win.

• We’ll expose common myths of innovation that muddy the waters and blur our focus.

• We’ll crystalize principles that will transcend industry to help everyone innovate.

• We’ll be inspired by historical examples of innovators who refused to give in, give out, give up.

• We’ll solidify key questions and commitments to make us not just smart but wise innovators.

• We’ll stretch ourselves to view innovation in a more sophisticated way—seeing multiple zonesof innovation—and challenge ourselves to invest the right amount of time dancing in each zone.

• We’ll explain how experiments are the seeds of innovation.

• We’ll help you develop your own Net Experiments Score (NES) to drive experimentation deeper into the heart and mind of your organization.

• We’ll give one another catalytic permission to feel the freedom to fail forward so thatexperimentation can take deep root in your team’s minds and organizational culture.

• We’ll carefully dissect when failure is forward (or smart) and when it is backward (or stupid).

• We’ll talk about the worlds of difference between commercial innovation and social innovation.

• We’ll find ways to ensure you and your team are more proactive and less reactive in innovation.

• We’ll explain how innovation can be evolutionary or revolutionary. And that we need both.

• We’ll consider how the space you work in has a huge impact on your innovative moves.

• We’ll wrap our heads around square watermelons, driverless cars, AI, magic, water hyacinths, mattresses, bullets and cannonballs.

• We’ll light the mega-fuse of urgency in one another’s minds.

• We’ll show several processes or methods of innovation so you and your team can choose or create one that best fits your own unique context or culture.

• We’ll see epic wins and colossal fails from various organizations like Lululemon, Willow Creek, Brandless, Apple, Tesla, Threadless, North Point, LEGO, USA Today, Samsung, Life Church, Havas, Casper, Willow Crystal Lake, IDEO, Denver Public Schools, IBM, Pixar, and GE.

• We’ll unleash the power of the crowd in helping us source incredible new ideas.

• We’ll challenge one another to admit that careless complexity is easier than careful simplicity and how to drive toward a culture of simplexity that allows innovation room to breathe.

• We’ll discover why innovation is a part of humanity’s unique DNA by developing a clarifying and grounding understanding of an actual theology of innovation.

• We’ll pressure-test our thinking with the insights from history’s greatest innovators like Da Vinci, Edison, Kelley, Christensen, Tushman, Musk, Disney, Ford, Jobs, and even Jesus.

We’ll shine lights in Innovation’s unexplored cave systems, descend into the deepest valleys and ascend up to the highest peaks of Innovation’s mountain range. We’ll draw on the edge of the map. This is going to be a journey of transformation. And it’s going to be a journey we go on together.

So before we take another step down this path, carefully consider the compass of our working definition of innovation one more time:

Innovation is the process of imagining and creating something new that adds value to people.

What do you think about that? Be ferociously honest. Do you like it? If not, why? What are we missing? See any gaps? How can we make it stronger while keeping it simple enough to be a guiding light?

Let the sparks begin…


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