Innovation has a pretty specific definition if it has to, and here at Mindjet, we interpret it as turning ideas into action. But that’s a blanket explanation; the nitty-gritty of innovating is malleable, and dependent on context, perspective, and intent.

For some, it’s all about creativity (I have an opinion on that, in fact). For others, innovation is centered around invention and the process of implementing ideas. Still, some base their own definition on how they’re able to innovate within their role in an organization. But when something as important as innovation is subjective, communicating how it’s done across your business can get a little confusing.

When Ingenuity Takes the Cake

The great thing about how collaborative we are today is that, as long as we’re all shooting for a similar end-goal, it’s okay for us not be one-hundred percent agreed on what it means to innovate. A lot of the time, a little disparity can actually serve as a motivator for aggregating perspectives and ideas. Core77’s Briana Sylver makes a good point: “Technically, ‘innovation’ is defined merely as ‘introducing something new,’” she says. “There are no qualifiers of how ground-breaking or world-shattering that something needs to be; only that it needs to be better than what was there before.”

She notes that it’s vital to understand the motivation behind a company’s innovation practices or desire to make changes to products and services. The same principle can be applied internally from department to department. For example, some teams value ingenuity itself over detailing how it will be used, like the creative design team. It’s their job to focus on aesthetic and flow, but not how to program or post whatever it is they’re working on. As a result, their idea of innovation will likely be very different from the engineers’, who of course care quite a bit about function and wouldn’t necessarily peg unique design as “innovative.” But that’s obvious — what might not be so apparent is how to align these varying outlooks with the overarching definition held by the company.

Much like with any major process or objective, it’s important that businesses craft a clear mission statement explaining what innovation means to the organization. That’s not to say that the philosophy should be strict or inflexible, but without a framework for employees to look to, level of innovation you’re after will always be vague — and that can lead to wasted ideas, incongruous suggestions, misused resources, and cross-departmental frustration.

In a Nutshell…

Companies, and the leaders within them especially, should think of different departments much like individual people, or at least separate-but-equal mini-businesses. Each will have their own brand of innovation that should be considered, respected, and utilized to serve the greater good. A few ways to make that happen:

  • Identify key innovation players in each department. That may or may not be the person heading the crew; while team leaders are certainly responsible for how their group implements ideas, they may have their own go-to folks that have a history of thinking ahead or making smart suggestions. Encouraging that kind of self-functioning mental machinery might help companies to discover innovation in unlikely places.
  • Keep an open mind/ door. One of the great stiflers of innovation is fear — and not necessarily a fear of failure. Sometimes people are terrified enough of rejection that they’ll stash their potentially-awesome ideas away entirely, or only share them with their peers. If you’re a leader, it’s in your best interest to develop an environment of comfort, trust, and acceptance. Not every idea that lands on your desk will be a breakthrough, but it’d be a shame to miss the ones that are simply because you’ve hidden yourself behind your title.
  • Understand the value of conversation. From Carol Stephenson of the Ivey Business Journal: “[Organizations] must actively seek to understand how events, decisions and actions affect not only their own company, but the rich complexity of interdependencies within their company [and] the environment in which it operates.” Basically, it takes more than handing a suggestion up the chain of command to go from ideation to implementation. Talk to people and get a full understanding of what they’re offering; flesh out innovations together, collaboratively, team to team — it’s one of the most effective ways to create confluence and align the different definitions of innovation across the entire company.

That said, our CMO, Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, sums up it all up nicely: “Innovation means having enough stability in day-to-day operations to allow for experimentation to ‘be’ the way you work; it means getting to look all across your company and your customers for ideas to try, not just your department. And it means having a culture that responds positively to failure with an expectation that you won’t fail the same way twice.”