What is the Key to Successful Innovation?

A major challenge in understanding innovation is the confusion between the concept of creativity and innovation itself. Creativity is defined as the use of imagination or original ideas; that is, thinking of new ideas. What is Innovation? Innovation, on the other hand, is the action or process of innovating; that is, implementing new ideas. Innovation starts with creativity and then moves into the process of actively innovating.

It is not the generating of ideas that creates a barrier to innovation. Rather it is that the organization does not permit the time The Conference Board of Canada conducted a survey of Corporate Canada’s innovation practices that was released on February 19, 2013. One of the key findings cited in this survey of 450 organizations, is that innovation is great for the bottom line, but if companies mis-manage it, there’s a good change that their money will be wasted. On the other hand, companies with well-defined innovation policies and practices show higher long-term growth in revenue, profits and company worth.

According to Michael Bloom, Vice-President of the Conference Board of Canada, in an interview with the Globe and Mail newspaper’s Report on Business on February 18, 2013 said, “The results suggest pretty strongly that it’s worth managing innovation. You get more bang for your buck.”

Some key ways to successful innovation is for organizations to think about: how to develop their culture for innovation, how to implement a process for innovation and how to maintain innovation throughout the organization. There is no one approach that will work in all organizations. Organizations must learn how others developed their strategies, organizational culture and process for innovation and benchmark this against their organization’s current structure and culture, incorporating those elements that make the most sense for them.

Another key element of success is to have the organization’s leadership come together to transform the existing organization’s culture into one that is more innovative. These leaders will ensure that a powerful guiding coalition is formed. The best way for them to start is by creating a Steering Committee to oversee the entire journey. This steering committee will oversee the implementation of an innovation program and process for innovation.

The steering committee will identify the goals for innovation, ensuring it is clear as to “Why innovation now?” They will develop the strategies for innovation; what is required to reach this goal. One of these strategies should be to evaluate the extent to which adding new products and services are included in the measurement of management’s performance. Other strategies should also include: re-shaping the organizational culture to ensure it is customer focused, value-driven and strategic and to adapt the culture so that it is more innovative to reach these strategies.

One key to successful innovation management is to have a clear process for innovation. In a recent report completed by the Harris Group, 47% of executives indicated that their organization has no team, process, or system for vetting new ideas in order to decide which ones to invest in.

There are many examples of individuals who have great ideas but do nothing with them. Their organizations do not even know of these concepts. Unfortunately these ideas die before they are given a chance. This could be because the innovator recognizes that their idea may negatively impact their job or the job of co-workers or, because the innovator didn’t know how to explore the idea to take it from a vision to a reality. Furthermore, the innovator may be too quick to discard the idea because they think that no one would ever agree on how to structure the concept or pay for it.

To change this unfortunate situation and ensure that organizations encourage new and creative ideas to come forward there needs to be an innovation process in evidence and a culture of innovation in the organization.

Management must listen to employees and ask them to “tell me more”, more often. They must take the time to ask “Why?” and “Why not?” As well, staff must “listen to management” for their visions and ideas and ask them to “tell me more” so that they can better understand the visions and goals of their organization. By taking the time to ask questions about “why” and ”why not,” staff will create their readiness to start the innovation process.


Creativity is useless without execution. Ideally, the organization’s culture of innovation and innovation process will motivate employees to create new ideas and ensure that these ideas get the support they need to move from vision to reality. In this way, staff will use the innovation process to implement their visions.

Innovation is a process. This final key to success is recognizing this. It is a long, not short, process but the rewards can be great and provide a true leading edge in the marketplace.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca