A few years back I wrote a post called ‘What is Innovation?’ and tried to put a definition around the word.
But, hanging a definition onto something that has become such a buzzword is difficult. By definition, any word or phrase that occurs in so many corporate mission statements starts to lose its original meaning.
The definition has expanded. Or, contracted. Or, diffused. Now we feel a responsibility to define what kind of innovation we are discussion at any given time. Is this incremental innovation? Is it breakthrough innovation? Is it market innovation? Is it product innovation? We are obliged define what we mean by each of those terms.
Maybe it is safer to avoid the term all together. In the space of product and service development, what are we really talking about?
We usually discuss it in regard to finding ways to create value for a customer. Uncovering what is it the customer values is a big part of what we do. We use design methods and story as an approach to observe, understand and give a framework to our understanding of how customers assign value.
Over the next few weeks, both on this blog and in the Story of Innovation podcast, we will walk through these concepts and connect them to each other.
Context, Characters and Plot
We are uncovering what is important to them—in a particular context. By using story we can start to describe it qualitatively. Every space has rules—things that are accepted, things that aren’t.
Beyond the environment and rules of a market space (context), we look at who is in the space. Not just the star of the show, the customer, but everyone acting in that space.
In fact it, in many cases, it can be tough to narrow down the customer to just one person. Especially in a business-to-business environment, your customer is often a web of people that can include purchasing, users, the business’s customers and a host of people impacted by a product or service.
Finally, there is the plot. Just as in a story, the plot is the stuff of what happens. For the purposes of creating value we talk about three ways: help the customer overcome a problem, have an experience or do a job.
The plot should be a simple declarative sentence that describes what the customer is working to accomplish. Almost all plots can be described this way: Stop the Empire. Slay the Dragon. Find the Grail. Get some Peace and Quiet. Climb the Mountain. It is what gives any story purpose.
What Good is It?
For customers, we need to understand the interactions that create value. The ones that give purpose in the context that you are striving to create value.
So creating value in some new way can be an innovation. Unfortunately, that definition still lacks the specificity for us all to understand exactly what someone means when they use that word.
We continue to use that word in a variety of ways, for a variety of things. We have to be more innovative. We need more innovation. Our company is all about innovation.
What do companies mean, exactly, when they say this? If I asked five people in the same company would I get the same definition of innovation? If nobody can agree on what the word means, then how do we define it?
As a term starts to lose meaning, it is in danger of becoming parody.
It would be great to hear from others about what each of you mean by the term. I was more certain in my definition several years ago than I am now.
Do any of you out there have what you think is a solid, exact definition? How far does your definition reach? How many others would agree with you?
We will continue to explore how you get at it, and find better ways to describe it here and at the Story of Innovation.