I met with a great team of executives recently, and we talked about the place of innovation in their company. While they had a desire for innovation and being described as innovators, what they were actually doing was taking a variety of great ideas from their global competitors and being the first to implement them in their local market. It’s not a bad practice --- if you’re okay being in second place all the time.
Being the first to copy someone else’s idea is NOT innovation. Although the idea may be new to you, it’s already been done. That’s called ‘early adoption’.
During an event showcasing innovation through the work of start-ups and young entrepreneurs, I watched the example of a young man who had a passion for his hobby and was starting a skateboard company. Ambitious? Yes. Admirable? Yes. Innovative? No.
There was nothing new about his product that was meaningfully unique compared to other skateboards being manufactured out there. What he had was a new company to add to the market, but not a new product. Although I loved this young man’s passion and appetite for risk and adventure, what he was doing is entrepreneurship…. not innovation.
Whether you are an established company, a start-up, or even an aspiring entrepreneur, true innovation means that you are the only one doing it. You have the patent. You are the one that everyone else is copying.
So how can you tell if your idea is truly an innovation?
1. Start with a solid definition of innovation and measure your idea against it.
We define innovation as ‘meaningfully unique’:
- Meaningful: there is a problem the idea solves or there is a need for the idea.
- Unique: no one else is doing it.
2. Search patent databases.
Are there other ideas like yours out there? If yes, then keep working on your idea to make it new and different than all the others out there. A good rule of thumb is that if you can get patent approved, you have an innovation.
3. Test out your idea.
You don’t want to be the inventor on Dragon’s Den with the big idea that nobody wants. Create a prototype, run market surveys, create a testing ‘lab’ and learn more about your idea to improve and make it better before you send it out into the world.
Companies who are truly innovative are the ones that are filing patents, encouraging a culture of collaboration and risk taking, being watched and copied…and making money. How do YOU define innovation?