What's The Definition Of Innovation?

CIOs don't have to be idea people. They have to make ideas work.

John Soat, Contributor

September 17, 2007

2 Min Read

CIOs don't have to be idea people. They have to make ideas work.I'm following up on the excellent blog written by my colleague Mitch Wagner about Ram Charan's presentation here at the InformationWeek 500 conference in Tucson, Ariz. Charan is an internationally known business and management consultant, and the author of several best-selling books on those subjects.

Charan likes to talk about innovation -- how innovation is the key to driving businesses forward into new markets, new ways of doing things, and, in particular, new ways of making money. Not only can technology managers participate in that business innovation, they can (should be) leaders of it, given how critical technology is to driving new ways of doing business.

But what is innovation -- and how do you generate it? According to Charan, an IT manager might say to him, "Ram, I'm not an idea person. What can I do?"

Leaders don't have to be idea people, Charan says. Leaders take ideas and convert them into business reality. "Innovation is converting ideas to numbers," he says.

There are two myths about the definition of innovation, says Charan:

1) Anybody who comes up with a good idea -- that's innovation. To paraphrase the old expression about good intentions, the road to business obscurity is paved with good ideas. (That's my paraphrase, not Dr. Charan's).

2) Technology pushes innovation. This is proved wrong by Silicon Valley, where new technology is pushed out the door on a regular basis. But technology for technology's sake doesn't work, according to Charan. "It must intersect with the consumer," he says, to fulfill a consumer need or demand.

My takeaway from Charan's sidebar about the definition of innovation is this: Throwing off ideas like fireworks at a Fourth of July picnic isn't what innovation is about. Instead, to paraphrase another well-known expression: Innovation is as innovation does.

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