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The Hidden Dimensions of Innovation That are Sadly Often Neglected

“After years in development, we are happy to reveal our new and innovative product.” This statement or similar statements can be found across the web at various articles, press releases and company websites. Those companies call themself innovative, they have an innovative company culture. But you know what: Most of them only have an innovative R&D or product department. And this is just a small part of their company. For a true innovation-driven culture within the whole company, you must understand the three hidden dimensions of innovation.

The Broader Definition of Innovation

The word innovation comes from the Latin words ‘novus’ and ‘innovatio’, both standing for some kind of ‘novelty’. Looking at it from a business perspective, novelty alone is not sufficient to speak from an innovation. It is rather the commercial exploitation of a new idea that distinguishes an innovation from an invention.

Innovation in its pure meaning is just the commercial exploitation of new ideas.

Three Dimensions of Innovation

Looking at this broad definition, I’ve often asked myself two question: why do most companies only speak of innovation when it comes to the next big thing? Shouldn’t there be more in innovation than meets the eye?

Gladly, after extensive research about different aspects, theories and models of innovation I was able to answer the questions. And now I can say: Yes, there is definitely more in innovation than meets the eye.

Let me show you the three hidden dimensions that best characterize the differences in innovation.

  1. The point of view The point of view gives indication of what an innovation is and what it isn’t. On the one hand, an innovation can be new to the world and thus it is a pure innovation from an objective point of view. On the other hand, an innovation can only be new to some individuals, a group or an organization and thus it is an innovation from a subjective point of view. Those two distinct views lead to the conclusion that an innovation is always related to the way you are looking at it.

  2. The object of innovation The second dimension of innovation is its object. Looking at classical theories of innovation, it can be either a process innovation or a product/service innovation. The process innovation describes novelties in the processes and procedures that a company uses to create value. The product or service innovation describes novelties within the created value (products, goods or services) that enable the customers to accomplish a new purpose or an existing purpose in a completely new way.

  3. The degree of innovation The last dimension of innovation is the degree or effectiveness. This dimension can also be splitted into two manifestations. On the one hand, there is the radical innovation that causes significant and complex changes within an organization. Radical innovation usually results in new processes, products or services. On the other hand, the incremental innovation focuses on changes in existing process, products and services.

Implication for an Innovation-driven Company Culture

Seeing those dimensions unfold, companies have to look different at an innovation-driven culture. To be innovate does not mean that you only have a team dedicated to finding the next big thing. Only searching for the radical product innovation that is new to the world is like finding a needle in a haystack: you have to work hard but you also have to be lucky.

A true innovation-driven culture is enabling and promoting all different dimensions and types of innovation: from small changes in processes and products to more radical innovations. I work along an innovation pyramid when trying to establish an innovative company culture.

The pyramid of innovation by Marcel Semmler

The largest and most important part are the daily incremental innovations that continuously optimize the existing products, services and processes. The innovations do not have to be new to the world, they have to be new to your company. In the middle of the pyramid are the radical innovations for existing business models and processes. This is the part where your try to grow and renew your existing business areas with radical approaches. The top of the pyramid are the radical innovations in new business areas. This are the moonshots, the next big things, in short: the products, services and processes that redefine your company as a whole and ensure its successful future.

How to Become an Innovation-driven Organization?

Okay, but how to develop an innovation-driven culture? It is a long and rocky way, but a way that pays off. It is definitely the next level in the agile transition of an organization. There are numerous ways and approaches to get the ball rolling.

One of the approaches is the Shared Product Mindset. It is a concept which I developed after looking back and asking: What were the points in time, when the companies I worked for or the projects I worked in became truely innovative from the bottom up? And what were the differences we have been established at those points?

If you want to read more about the Shared Product Mindset, follow me or my publication as I am currently working on my upcoming story about ‘The Shared Product Mindset as the Next Level of the Innovation-Driven Organization’.


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