Is this a “po-ta-to / po-tah-to” difference or are there real implications for your business?
The terms innovation and improvement are often used interchangeably to the point that many in the business world do not differentiate between the two. At first glance, improvement and innovation share many similarities. When implemented properly, both involve the entire organisation, both can improve efficiency and productivity, and both provide opportunities to improve quality and increase value to customers. However, not all improvements are innovations, and while most innovations are improvements, some are not.
Improvement focuses on existing organisational elements within a company (the existing processes, roles, and materials used) to make them more effective and efficient (refer to our recent article on building a BPI Model). It provides opportunities to identify redundant or flawed processes, reduce dependence on individual people, eliminate waste and reduce cost. Its all about taking what you have and making it better.
Innovation means doing or creating something that is new in order to grow. Instead of focussing on improving the processes that are already in place, innovation puts the emphasis on solving a problem in the most effective way. And with that viewpoint, sometimes the most effective solution is to completely overhaul or redefine the way something is done. The changes that are labelled as innovative tend to be big, disruptive changes.
Improvement Is Evolutionary, Innovation Is Revolutionary
In a recent article, Patrick Lefler, founder of The Spruance Group, gives three hard hitting examples differentiating between the two concepts.
“First, an improvement that only meets the market standard or reacts to innovation that your competitors have already introduced into the market is NOT innovation. It’s playing catch-up.
Second, introducing an improvement that does not significantly differentiate you from your competitors is NOT innovation. It’s simply just an improvement—evolutionary, not revolutionary.
And finally, introducing improvement that may give you a competitive advantage but also can be easily copied by your competitors is NOT innovation. It’s just a temporary advantage.”
Effective ways to foster an innovation friendly culture within your company are?
Lead from the front - Innovation starts with the leadership qualities of the founder or CEO
Create a culture of innovation - People perform best when they are driven by inspiration and encouraged to push their boundaries and think outside the box.
Build effective teams - Believe in the long-term results of the team’s efforts.
Reward pioneering mentality within your organisation - One of the most powerful tools for promoting employee creativity and innovation is recognition.
Take ownership of client problems - Innovative organisations encourage staff to take ownership of problems presented by clients.
Benchmark against the best – Your business does not trade in a vacuum
Flat management structure - Enabling opportunities for open communication and encouraging confidence).
The million $ question: Which is best improvement or innovation?
Increasingly companies are looking at a combination of both to propel themselves forward and deliver overall benefits in all areas and functions of a company. By leveraging a culture of continuous improvement, you realise gains in efficiency and productivity which can lead to increased profitability. Being committed to innovation ensures your organisation has a process, organic or otherwise, to continually develop and produce products and processes that deliver positive results. The combination of the two pack a real one-two punch and deliver great benefits for your organisation’s people, products, and processes, and its bottom line.
Are you looking improve productivity and your businesses bottom line? Performance Drivers have a large team of subject matter experts with proven records and experience delivering measurable and sustainable outcomes. We start with a conversation that focuses on understanding your business and what you need to achieve, then we find the right member or members of our team to work with you to make that a reality.