Want to innovate? Be clear about what you mean.

Want to innovate? Be clear about what you mean.

Regularly, I find myself sitting at a table across people who are determined to innovate. These people are usually somewhat frustrated. Managers often complain about their people ‘not getting it.’

“We need to innovate. Innovation is one of our top priorities, but the people in my team don’t innovate. How can I get them to innovate?”

The first thing I usually ask these types of managers is the childishly simple question “What is innovation, according to you?

After some confused stammering and looking awkwardly to equally confused colleagues for help, the manager usually regains confidence and proudly proclaims his or her definition of ‘innovation’.

I then turn to the next person in the room (if that person has not already injected his or her 2 cents on the matter). “And what about you? What is your definition of innovation?

I’m not saying the definition of the first person is wrong. Nor the second or third for that matter. All I’m noticing is that when there are 4 people in the room, they tend to give 4 different definitions.

And that is a problem.

If there is no consensus, even between such a small number of people, how will the hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of individuals within the organisation be able to pursue a shared goal? If there is not one shared definition of innovation in the organization, how can you honestly expect people to ‘innovate’?

Employees should at least know what the goal is. What is expected of them?

If I tell you “go innovate” what will you do?


Innovation in itself is vague. A more elaborate definition is required if you want people to act and together make the company more innovative. There are different types of innovation and quite possibly thousands of definitions. It hardly matters which one you choose. As long as you choose. Everybody in the organisation should know what’s expected of them. What is the goal?

How will you know you’ve reached your innovation goal?

Be clear and tell people what your innovation goal is. Make sure this shared goal is communicated clearly to everyone in the organisation. Everybody needs to be informed and (preferably) on board. Innovation is not generally something you do with a small number of people (which is why innovation departments are not necessarily a good idea).


Do you have a shared innovation goal and a definition of innovation success, yet do people still struggle with the innovation process? Perhaps we can help. The best way to get people to pursue innovations is to show them the power of innovation. In our Innovation Course, we let people experience the innovation process in a safe environment. In six workshops a group of individuals goes through all the different phases of the innovation process. Together they will develop their own small innovation project. This way, the participants learn what steps and techniques are needed and how these are best approached. More importantly, they experience that they themselves can be innovative! Would you like to hear more about the Innovation Course and what it could mean for your organisation? Send me an email or give us a call on 0031-10 3070 534.

Flickr Creative Commons Image via Joshua McKenty.

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