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Join the supply chain conversation with Sharon Rice, executive director of the APICS Educational and Research (E&R) Foundation. Explore topics including the role of supply chain planning in corporate success, how sustainability and corporate social responsibility enable the bottom line, global supply chain risk management, and more. Comments are welcome. 

Innovation: a noun or a verb?

by Sharon Rice, APICS E&R Foundation Executive Director | Mar 11, 2013
I am starting to cringe when I see the word innovation. I have placed this word on a list of terms that I maintain that are so overused that they begin to lose their meaning.“ I know where Bob Trent, who commented on my last post, is coming from. In the world of business education and communication, most of us are guilty of picking up on trends in nomenclature and beating them to death until pointed in a new direction by different trends. The problem with naming is that it allows us to seemingly embrace concepts without really understanding them. We can lose the complexity or richness of meaning.

So perhaps it is best to focus on innovation as a process as opposed to an outcome. What is required for innovative thinking and action to become a part of the way firms do business? Jennifer Kevlin, Value Stream Manager, WW Client Supply Chain & Delivery Solutions at IBM, shared this weekend how IBM seeks to create a culture of “collaborative innovation” through the use of technology. IBM Jam Events allow individuals from all over the world to think together about issues in different ways, taking different perspectives. These are structured, facilitated events where the input received is carefully culled through and evaluated. The outcome of these events can be new projects that drive value to the customer, the firm, or society.

Harnessing social media to facilitate collaborative thinking is a powerful way to embed innovation in process. Yet gathering input is not the end of the process. Companies still need to be able to not only make sense of all the input received, but transform it into something that is actionable and that ultimately drives value to the customer. 

What ways are companies creating a culture of innovation in their organizations? Is value being created as an outcome?


5 Comments

  1. 1 Kevin Wurtz 14 Mar
    Excellent observations by all. What we need to keep in mind is the difference between inward facing innovation and outward facing innovation. Within our organizations (inward facing) what is innovative can be likened to continuous improvement. What is perceived as truly innovative is the outward facing impressions on the population of what product we introduce or service we provide. True innovation will be perceived as a product or service that the population didn't realize it needed or wanted until it is unveiled. Inward facing innovation is expected, it is why we do what we do. Outward facing innovation is a suprise we didn't anticipate.
  2. 2 Chet Frame 12 Mar

    There are so many undefined aspects to this thread!  YEAH!

    Innovation?  Value? Entrepreneur(IAL)?

    Success is realizing value through our life - my definition.  That brings us back to value. 

    Our perspective of value changes as we grow.  That is the driver of innovation.  As an operator in a piece rate job, there was value in making more pieces.  It meant more money in the check.  As a planner, it was putting together a plan that worked for the Customer and for the Plant Management team.  As a Manager, it was putting together teams of people who could bring change to fruition.  As a Business Owner, it is creating something that the Customer willingly pays for - not once, but multiple times.

    Innovation keeps us from thinking only of making more pieces.  It keeps us thinking about how we improve our interfaces with our Family, our Customers, our Employees, our mirror every evening and every morning.  

    It's not the giant leap of a Steve Jobs in almost every case.  It is the impact of a daily commitment to working to be better.  Perfect? No.  Better? Yes.




  3. 3 Paul Pittman 12 Mar
    Excellent reflections on what we mean by "innovation".  Like most terminology, it can be hard to disagree with something that sounds good if we haven't clearly defined nor have a shared understanding of the concept.  I also concur with the insightful comments shared by Bob Trent.  To take these thoughts on innovation and continuous improvement a little farther, innovation isn't necessarily revolutionary as much as it is an evolutionary process.  Most organizations (as well as individuals) that we identify as successful rarely achieve those outcomes because of a single revolutionary “innovation”.  Rather, they are always living in the question of “how can we do what we are doing even better?”  This is a common characteristic of the best athletes, musicians, leaders, and organizations.  If we create a mindset and culture are always trying to figure out how to provide even better products and services, the little innovations can cumulate significantly over time while, at the same time, the likelihood of a breakthrough revolution also increases.  
  4. 4 Bob Trent 11 Mar

    Sharon asks:

    "What ways are companies creating a culture of innovation in their organizations? Is value being created as an outcome?"

    I think first and foremost is to create a culture of continuous improvement.  People who operate in this culture are never satisfied with the status quo.  They know that whatever they are doing today just won't cut it tomorrow.  And, the way to improve is often through the process of innovation.  Continuous improvement and innovation go hand in hand.

    Second, the ability to manage change within an organization is essential to creating a culture of innovation.  Let's face it--innovation means change.  Some people in organizations fight even the most logical and simplest of changes. Change is like taxes.  We don't mind higher taxes (i.e., change) as long as someone else is paying those taxes (i.e., someone else having to deal with the change).

    Finally, working with people who are entrepreneurial thinkers will go a long way toward promoting a culture of innovation.  This does not mean these people are entrepreneurs.  It means they think like an entrepreneur by constantly looking for new opportunities (and perhaps taking some risk now and then).   Let's face it--any entrepreneur who was successful became that way by challenging the status quo or meeting some unmet need.  And how does that happen?  It happens almost always through the process of innovation.  Create a work environment where your people are entrepreneurial thinkers and watch innovation take off. 

  5. 5 Chuck Nemer 11 Mar
    It ain't hi-tech but as a sole proprietor it does the trick.  Every Sunday over a cup of coffee at a coffee shop, I have a focus list of questions I work through and answer and update my ideas.  It forces me to be like Chet suggested, having something in the pipeline.  The culture part is the embedded intentionality of the effort.  Don't know if that's a word or not and apologize if it isn't!

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