Does every innovation have to be a game-changer?

“What is innovation according to you?” Prasna Rao** lobbed this question at me as he walked in.

“Any new idea that is implemented and adds value to the stake-holder is an innovation?”

“Is that so? What about process improvements? I implement a new idea to improve efficiency, reduce cost, save time, increase safety etc?”

“All of this is innovation. Why do you ask?”

“I have a feeling that there are many who may not agree with your ‘simplistic’ definition?”

“What is their definition then?”

“The view is that for something to be called an innovation, it must be game-changing in nature. It must naturally entail a big risk. It is about taking a road not traveled.”

“Whose view is this?”

“I read it in your notes from one of your meetings with a client. It made me stop and think. I got the feeling that you also agreed. An innovation is a big idea that changes people’s lives.”

“Yes, I quite liked that point of view. I find it difficult to accept that as the only definition of innovation.”

“So you will split hairs – the big ‘I’ and the small ‘i’. Will you?”

“I do not like the big ‘I’ and the small ‘i’ – it introduces an unnecessary hierarchy in innovations. ”

“Could there be improvements and innovations? Both are important for organisations.”

“I think we need more views on this. It is important to clarify this.”

Why is it important?

“Because a game-changing innovation does not happen every day in the life of an organisation. A Nano does not happen every day. Improvements happen all the time and result in making things simpler, faster, safer, cheaper etc. They are necessary. It is like there are movies and there are block busters. If people focus on making only  ‘block busters’ we will not move. Not every one can think of a big innovation; even more important – not every one has the appetite to take the big risk that goes with it. ”

I agree with you. This point needs discussion. We need to explore both sides in depth. What will you do now?”

“I will ask for help! I know several people who can bring clarity into this discussion.”

**Prasna Rao is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms.  You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach


Picture by kate_jordan available under a Creative Commons Attribution- licensed for commercial use.



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2 Responses to “Does every innovation have to be a game-changer?”

  1. arvind says:

    Sometimes it feels stupid to invest so much time, effort, energy into defining a term that is inherently ambiguous. And yet, it is irresistible – because it invites opinion, which of course we have in ample measure. And opinion is highly infectious – one immediately begets another. With that preamble, here is my response to the title question.
    No, I don’t think innovation is invariably and always manifested by game change. However, I also disagree that innovation can be incremental or linear. For me, innovation is always the surprising, delightful even, lateral rather than linear – in other words, it cannot be predicted or pre-defined. And yet, its result is invariably beneficial, delightful even.
    Come to think of it, the expression “aha!” almost perfectly captures just what innovation is. Can’t think of any better or tighter definition.

    • R Sridhar says:

      Thanks Arvind. I like the way you have brought in the ‘AHA!’ aspect of innovation. And the non-linear angle too. Thanks also for starting the discussion.


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