Innovation is a buzzword of a new generation. It is also a word with so many ambiguous connotations that no one has been able to put their finger on what personifies real innovation.

There are countless examples of moments of innovation and innovative ideas that create or impact change.

Yet each example reflects different challenges, and likewise leads to different subjective results.

The Meaning of Innovation

Some of the synonyms of “innovation” are ‘alteration’, ‘deviation’, ‘newness’ and ‘modernization.’

Antonyms are ‘habit and ‘tradition’.

Let’s analyze the implication of innovation simply by the comparison of both the synonyms and antonyms of the word:

  • Is Innovation something that creates stability in itself, or is its sole purpose a tool to eradicate tradition?
  • If innovation is the antonym of tradition, or habit, does that imply that all habits or traditions are bad?
  • How can one be innovative, and yet not sacrifice the value systems of corporate tradition and/or habits applied through years of experience?
  • Does innovation challenge the value of Empiricism and place Epistemology at the forefront of decision-­making?
  • Is there such thing as “traditional or habitual innovation”? Or is that an oxymoron?

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition likens the word ‘innovation’ to “path‐breaking.” In other words, veering off the traditional path.

Would innovation require one to give up, or ignore the experience it has accumulated in its existing path in order to adapt to a new experience?

Innovation as Change?

Our mental parallel with the word innovation often resonates with images of leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Henry Ford.

Why? Because we have been taught that innovation only occurs at the crossroads of change and ‘alteration.’

We have created a belief system that the consequence of innovation is a product or an idea. We have been convinced that innovation is a birthright and not an achievable attribute.

What is Innovation?

Is it the result or the process? Is it a strategy or mindset? Is it constant or does it occur at certain moments or stages?

Economists are concerned about the process. Sociologists and psychologists are concerned about the cultural and psychological implications of innovation.

Businesses are commonly concerned about the results.

All the aforementioned are correct within its context. But is each one independent of one another, or does innovation demand a combination of them all?

All too often, innovation is entertained at the darkest moments of business.

Businesses look to innovation as an answer to flaws in strategy, marketing, branding, or even outright immobilization. Innovation is rarely considered as the part of every­day traditional corporate culture.

As it falsely implies a new direction, a new product or a new strategy, businesses wait for ‘signs’ that imply the need for innovation. Usually, when the corporate leadership begins throwing around notions of innovation, it is too late.

The lack of constant innovation results in downsizing, layoffs, and protectionism.

Innovation Culture

Businesses must create a culture that teaches, endorses, and exercises innovation as tradition without the fear that often hampers its ability to see results.

In another article about “change” I said the following, “To create real change, one must create circumstance to promote change, so that change is not inhibited before it happens.”

The same is true with innovation. In itself, innovation is useless in a business without a corporate culture that forges incentive, methods, and results that glorify innovation.

How can an organization teach, endorse, and exercise innovation?

Utilize innovation as a corporate culture, and not as a business strategy.

Innovation is a state of mind, not a God­‐given talent. It is a way of life, not a solution to a dilemma. Innovation, contrary to common consensus, can be taught, adopted, and learned.

But we grow up learning, through antiquated methods, to follow the rules, take notes, and walk in single file.

In a world that consistently requires renewing, re­‐evaluation, revisions, and redoing, such archaic learning is the very ‘box’ in the phrase ‘think outside of the­ box.’

Corporations are best served when their employees are taught the importance of innovation, both within the walls of business and within their personal endeavors.

Innovation harvests passion, opens doors to creativity, and fosters a person’s natural inclination to tear down internal limitations. Innovation searches for alternative means to a goal, or entertains the thought of creating new roads towards achievement.

Endorse Innovation

Innovation must be nurtured by support systems that encourage the revered ‘out-­of‐the‐box’ thinking. Incentives for innovation should be infused within your structure, strategy, and sales to implore employees to put innovation into practice.

Doctors in France increase their bonus at the end of the year based on how many lives they have improved (i.e. doctor may assist someone to stop smoking). They consistently explore innovative ways to improve the lives of others, and incentives are rewarded both immediately and annually.

Likewise, innovation can be rewarding to those who put it into practice, as well as the company. Innovation is self­‐gratifying, yielding immediate results, both measurable and applicable for the future.

Innovation can create a new spirit within a corporate environment, where workers shed the mindset of an employee and embrace the attitude of being a stakeholder.

Exercise Innovation

Innovation challenges each familiar experience with new approaches, as if it was being experienced for the first time.

Once you have learned how to be innovative, create an environment that concedes to innovation and endorses it. All you have to do now is exercise innovation.

With the right models, proper corporate policy, and flexible guidelines for business, practicing innovation will cease to be exercised and quickly turn into ‘Standard Operating Procedure.’

The reason I used the word “exercise”, as opposed to “practice” is because exercise denotes gain through pain. It refers to the perspiration of the body, and expansion of the muscles.

It likens such literal terms to the process of innovation. It can be painful at times, it can make you sweat, but it will allow you to persevere over time.

Do not let this scare you back to stagnation. Be fearless in innovation.

Fearless Innovation

In biology, there is a noted understanding of how nature creates stability through adverse conditions that are under calculated safety margins. Innovation understands the need for error, in a process of modernization.

Create policy and guidelines that understand error and encourage a system that consistently analyzes error in order to understand the safety margins that must continuously be updated.

Let innovation question the reason for fear, and put reservation and conservation under trial.

Do not fear innovation. Fear only the day when innovation is too late.

What is fear? F.E.A.R. is False Evidence Appearing Real.

How Do You Cultivate Innovation?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Nelson Santiago
Nelson is co-founder of Picasso Einstein a firm that provides branding consulting services for businesses. They also teach entrepreneurship to persons with disabilities and their families through the "E4i" (Entrepreneurship 4 Independence) program. Picasso Einstein is currently assisting the Dan Marino Foundation to develop the Entrepreneurship Program for the Marino Campus, a school of higher learning for young adults with developmental disabilities.