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The Real Purpose of Innovation

Innovation is often associated with creativity, big ideas and risk taking.  When times are tough and companies are in a slump, the go-to answer is innovation to spur on growth.  However, for many companies, real innovative growth and transformation remains elusive.


Leadership and innovation guru, Gary Hamel once said in an interview with McKinsey:





“For almost 20 years I’ve tried to help large companies innovate.  And despite a lot of successes along the way, I’ve often felt as if I were trying to teach a dog to walk on his hind legs. Sure, if you get the right people in the room, create the right incentives, and eliminate the distractions, you can spur a lot of innovation.  But the moment you turn your back, the dog is on all fours again…   So over the years, it’s become increasingly clear to me that organizations do not have innovation DNA… This realization inevitably led me back to a fundamental question:  what problem was management invented to solve, anyway?”


What Hamel realized was the importance of understanding the original purpose of an organization.  Why was it created in the first place?  What value did the organization set out to provide to its customers and employees?  How meaningful is that value?  It’s that same value and meaning that should drive the direction and purpose of innovation.


Consider Google for example.  Google is renowned for launching a search engine that focuses on pulling together as many results without bombarding its users with useless ads or sensationalized news stories.  Its approach is directly aligned to its mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.   Its subsequent innovations such as the Nexus smartphone and tablet along with Google Glass continue to focus on organizing information and making it accessible and useful.  While the Nexus products have delivered tangible value and meaning for its users, reactions to Google Glass have ranged from cool to creepy.  Inherently, Google Glass is about organizing information and making it accessible visually.  How useful that information is and the lengths taken to access that information is still being debated.   Despite the mixed reactions to its recent innovations, Google is clear about its purpose and how innovation is a means to deliver on that purpose.


How well has your organization done in aligning innovation to its purpose?  What did your organization originally set out to do?  Is it still relevant to your customers, employees and stakeholders today?  What needs to be done to shift innovation efforts to deliver on your organization’s purpose?


This is a creative commons image courtesy of Seth Sawyers

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