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Innovation is still being innovated - Part 1 of 2

Innovation is still being innovated

The art and discipline of Innovation is still being innovated. And rightly so. It’s a never-ending journey, with notable milestones along the way.

Over the last 75 years, the field of corporate innovation has dynamically evolved from the 1950s-60s’ NASA innovation process models and the Osborn-Parnes creative problem-solving process to today’s popularity with Design Thinking and Agile Development. Yet, as the saying goes, “There’s still more East to go.”

What’s in store for us is a transformative next level in the mindset and practice of Innovation towards a richer, more impactful sense of Human Centered Innovation… characterized by a greater depth of meaningful purpose, inclusive engagement, values-based motivation, innovative thinking, innovation ROI, and the innovation process itself.

That term, “Human Centered Innovation,” does not mean self-centered, ego-motivated desires to get more and more for ourselves. It actually means the opposite: to “be centered” in our deepest human motivations to serve others, cultivate healthy well-being, and be stewards of the planet that sustains us.

In this blog I’d like to highlight 3 “signs” of this evolution in the mindset and practice of Innovation that are already evident. A future blog will go into 3 other signs of this evolution.  

The 1st sign of the continuing innovation of Innovation is the growing emphasis on knowing (not just believing) that each of us has a purpose in life bigger than ourselves… and to know that each organization we work for has a purpose beyond itself as well.

When we find or create opportunities to express our personal purpose through work, we tap into deep, meaningful motivations for giving our innovative best. For example, in my 30’s I came to understand a central theme and purpose to my own work: to share and activate a knowing that business, creativity/innovation, and good values (often spiritual-based) are simply facets of the same jewel – not even separate forces to be brought together. That has guided my career choices since then, including the co-founding of Values Centered Innovation Inc.

This “knowing” that an organizations can have a meaningful purpose beyond its own prosperity is showing up in huge global businesses. For example, Unilever (the world’s 3rd largest company in the fast-moving consumer goods industry) sees that its prosperity is intrinsically tied to serving a greater good: to make sustainable living commonplace:

The world doesn’t stand still – and neither do we. We’ve been pioneers, innovators and future-makers for over 120 years. Not only do we embrace change, we also seek to make it. That applies to our brands – which achieve positive change through their purpose and value chains. It also applies to our business – which we are making future-fit, faster and more flexible.

We want our business to flourish, and we know that our success depends on others flourishing around us. That's why our purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace, and why sustainable, long-term growth is at the heart of our business model. Our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is driving long-term growth while reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact.

Let’s be clear… What we’re talking about here is a purpose that is more profound, and more motivating, than simply “meeting customer needs” – which can be intended just to make sure you get customers to buy stuff. Purpose provides a sense of making a positive difference in people’s lives, and contributing to the well-being of society and the planet.

A 2nd sign of the evolution of the mindset and practice of Innovation is the rise of inclusive engagement: that every person can be innovative. For most of the last 100 years in business, “being innovative” has been a role assigned to experts and specialists; they’re the “innovators” and the rest of us simply implement what they come up with.

About 60 years ago, a newer assumption started to become popular: that innovators could be anyone with the self-initiative to “champion” a new idea through to implementation. Then, about 30 years ago, a different belief started to gain traction: that everyone has the capability to be innovative – to step up and “do things new, better, easier, or different” in their jobs.

Today, all 3 beliefs can be found among different businesses, and even among leaders in the same business. But the growing sense of inclusion is unmistakably clear, and marks another aspect of how innovation is being innovated, year by year.

A 3rd sign of Innovation being innovated is the emergence of emotional intelligence and good character values to balance the historical bias towards the mental side of innovation (such as brainstorming and project planning). Early evidence of this shift came in 1982 when W. Edwards Deming published his famous “14 Points” of Total Quality Management in Out of the Crisis. Nine of the 14 were related to interpersonal feelings and the quality of relationships, and he emphasized that fear was the most significant barrier to high quality, productivity, and innovation. 35 years later, Google published its findings about the 5 top characteristics of their most effective teams, and “psychological safety” – the absence of the fear of being criticized – was #1 on their list.

Design Thinking introduced the importance of empathy for those we’re innovating for – and I believe that is a primary reason for DT’s worldwide adoption as an innovation methodology. But this 3rd sign goes even deeper than removing fear and practicing empathy. Research into the most innovative teams at HP Labs found that caring and honesty were key characteristics of their most extraordinary teams vs. successful teams. And the decades of research by the Great Place to Work Institute has repeatedly found that the most fundamental quality is a high levels of trust.

Caring. Honesty. No fear. Trust. These are examples of the qualities of good character and human values found across cultures and time. These kinds of values are finally being recognized as foundational to great engagement and great teamwork, resulting in great innovation.

Indeed, the art and discipline of Innovation is still being innovated. We all have something to contribute to refine, transform, and even disrupt the notions we’ve had about Innovation up to his point – bringing about a powerful next level to the mindset and practice of Innovation. That’s what drives us at Values Centered Innovation to develop and provide products and services that tap into and curate practical means to innovate with greater depth of meaningful purpose, inclusive engagement, and values-based motivation.

In a future blog, I’ll address 3 other signs for how Innovation is still being innovated towards a transformation in how we treat innovative thinking, innovation ROI, and the innovation process itself.

I’m sure you can add your own experience about how Innovation is still being innovated. I’d appreciate learning from your insights. Connect with me on Linkedin and share your thoughts!

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William Miller's picture
About the author

William C. Miller, co-founder of Values Centered Innovation, is passionate about integrating emotional intelligence, human values, and mental discipline with our innate capabilities to be innovative.