Businesses don’t want innovation; they want what innovation can do for them.
Pick up a book about innovation and chances are you’ll find the author talking up the importance of innovation and the growing recognition of this importance in businesses around the world.
At one level I can’t disagree. But having led an innovation function at a large corporate, I’d also say that most businesses don’t want innovation; they want what innovation can do for them! This isn’t just wordplay; my point is to highlight a subtle but crucial difference that has a big impact on the way you approach the topic of innovation.
Business don’t want innovation; they want the positive outcomes of innovation. These are usually around measurable business growth, competitive advantage, impact. These are the ends; innovation is just the means.
In saying this, I’m reminded of Ted Levitt’s famous quote: “People don’t want quarter inch drill bits; they want quarter inch holes”
This distinction is also useful in teasing out the two parts of innovation.
There’s the input part – the processes and practices that stimulate innovation; and then there’s the output part – the impact that the innovation has in the world
As Scott Berkum says in the preface to The Myths of Innovation, innovation is about delivering significant positive change. The output and outcome are what really matter. I’m not saying the inputs don’t matter. They matter to innovators and they’re crucial to bringing about positive outcomes. But innovators need to remember that the “customers” of innovation don’t really care about innovation per se.