Innovation is one of the most overused words out there. I think it can fall into the same bucket as quality. Everybody says we must be more innovative, we must innovate. But what is innovation?
Innovation (from Dictionary.com)
1. something new or different introduced: numerous innovations in the high-school curriculum.
2. the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods.
So at the end of the day an innovation is anything new. That sounds less positive now. The one aspect that bothers me with innovation is the lack of the reason for the innovation. Innovation itself does not imply that anything is made better by innovating. Just that something new has been tried. Although this lack of reason for the change does allow for more ideas to be generated without fear of rejection, ultimately the innovation must make things better or we are changing just for the sake of change.
I think if you ask people their definition of Innovation, they would communicate that they believe innovation does imply a benefit or improvement from the current state.
A key point here is what is creating the innovation? I believe it is the knowledge, skill and creativity of the person recommending the change. They believe that the change or innovation will result in a better product, process, or service.
Is this really then Ingenuity in addition to Innovation?
Ingenuity (from Dictionary.com)
1. the quality of being cleverly inventive or resourceful; inventiveness: a designer of great ingenuity.
2. cleverness or skillfulness of conception or design: a device of great ingenuity.
3. an ingenious contrivance or device.
We need to have Ingenious Innovations and not just innovations by themselves. Hopefully we are taking our experience and skills and using them to continue to evolve the design of our processes and products.
Case in Point – Robertson Screws
This was illustrated for me as I was watching a documentary on the Hurricane Katrina recovery. A Canadian company was going down to the 9th ward in New Orleans to help them rebuild and they brought along their own supplies as they were not sure what would be available locally. Being from Canada, they brought along Robertson screws. The work crews in New Orleans had never seen them before and wondered how they would use them. It turns out that Robertson screws are somewhat of a Canadian-thing. I wasn’t aware they were not widely used outside of Canada. Here is the link to the Wikipedia link on Robertson
Screws for my non-Canadian friends.
Once the works crews used them, they wondered how they could go back to the standard screws they had been using. The Robertson screws could be put in quicker, with one hand, and were usually straighter. It is also mentioned that the screws are self-correcting due to their shape.
The Robertson screw is a great example of an Ingenious Innovation made by someone due to their experience and skill. They created a unique design that would improve the process and ultimately the product being produced. But the lesson on Ingenious Innovation did not end there. Unfortunately P.L. Robertson was so adamant to not license the screw that this prevented Henry Ford from widely using the Robertson screw in his cars. (they were only used in cars made in Canada) This limited the market for the Robertson Screw and greatly limited their use in the United States.
A not so subtle reminder that we all benefit when we Ingenious Innovate and then Selflessly Share.