New Resource: What Do Colleagues Hear When You Say ‘Innovation’?

By Aaron Proietti, Contributing Writer
Former Innovation SVP and Chief Customer Advocate, Transamerica

When the CEO asked me to lead innovation efforts at my company in 2012, I had the opportunity to travel to each of our locations and talk to the employees about our innovation program. While on stage, I remember asking the audience, “What is innovation?” Hands would shoot up and people would explain what innovation meant to them. “It’s creativity!” someone would shout. “Building something new,” someone else would say. “Inventing new products,” “Taking risks,” or “Incremental improvement,” might be offered up as well.

What was consistent was that innovation was inconsistently understood. Innovation could be all of those things, or it could just be one or two. What this ambiguity allowed, for me as a leader, was some flexibility in creating a definition of innovation that worked for our company at that time. The risk, of course, was that the ambiguity was never resolved, and the innovation efforts would either spin in their tracks or grind to a halt, and never progress beyond a dream. After all, if everyone thinks innovation means something different, can it really happen?

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