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Don't Innovate for Innovation's Sake

John Roden, CIO, Brunner
John Roden, CIO, Brunner

John Roden, CIO, Brunner

If my memory serves me correctly, my first computer was an IBM XT with a 10Mb hard drive, twin floppy drives and 64K of RAM! And while it felt like the ultimate in technology innovation at the time, I now recognize perhaps its best feature was that booting from floppy drives gave me just enough time to make a cup of tea. Upon further reflection, it also made me think about the current challenges we face when deciding how to be innovative in a world changing so quickly.

Think about it: we’re constantly inundated with products and services all of which claim to revolutionize our projects and day to day business operations. This week the hot topic is containerization, next week I have to use AI or my business is going nowhere. And, regardless of the timing, if I don’t strive to be at the forefront of all things tech and innovation, staff retention and sales suffer.

So, it often feels like innovation is at a crossroads. We either create it through controlled research and careful planning or we innovate for innovation’s sake. Not for the sake of our business, our people or our customers. Either way, it’s unavoidable. But therein lies the challenge: defining what actually requires innovation and what can be addressed by current budget and resources?

Innovation comes at a cost. How many times have you implemented a great new piece of technology and then wondered why the initial ROI doesn’t fit with where you are in the project? Sure, you can plan and forecast and recalibrate but with cutting-edge improvements, there are always unanticipated variables to overcome. Which is why innovation must be done selectively and intentionally.

  Rather than focusing on proof of concepts and business challenges, focus on creativity, mentorship and problem solving   

Pushing the boundaries and creating forward progress is a key facet of technology innovation. It’s critical for our businesses, our clients and our peers. And it’s something that should always be in the back of your mind. But, rather than adapting the standard definition of innovation, I’d challenge you to redefine how and why you pursue it for your organization. Here’s why:

• Regular reinvention keeps you – and your team – engaged –Redefining your role, and the role of technology within your organization,keeps you relevant. You need the experience, but it has to be applicable to current and future ways of thinking about and using technology. If you want to be a leader in this day and age, the most important trait you can have is self-reinvention, which goes hand-in-hand with innovation. Speaking of staying relevant …

• Staying relevant doesn’t mean keeping up with the trends – Innovation doesn’t follow the beaten path. It creates a new journey for those bold enough to take it. Staying relevant doesn’t mean knowing what’s popular now; it’s about anticipating the needs of customers tomorrow and delivering on them today. Technology plays a huge role in this, and in order to drive innovation you should, too.

• Innovation isn’t just for products, it’s for processes–Look beyond barriers. To create innovation you have to be driven and results oriented but willing to build partnerships at all levels throughout the organization. Rarely is innovation limited to a single team; good leaders recognize and exploit cross-disciplinary collaboration to create new solutions.

• Don’t be afraid to take a risk – There’s risk and then there’s risk aversion. With innovation, risk is unavoidable. Like it or not, risk is a key component driving us to explore areas we’d normally steer clear of while at the same time serving as the nagging voice in the back of our minds telling us we’re on the verge of greatness. Take the risk.

Think innovation is just a buzzword? You might be right. But at a time where innovation is exploding at an exponential rate, it’s creating huge opportunities for companies and teams of all sizes. So what’s the point of it all?

Consider this: if you give people the opportunity to create something truly revolutionary, and produce a proof of concept, unfortunately the majority of them will fail. Not just because authentic innovation is hard to create, but also, because they’re conforming to the expected standards of innovation. So, you have to challenge them to do more, better. Just producing an idea is challenging, doing something about it takes a massive amount of effort, time and thinking, drive and determination, a focused approach and an exceptionally stubborn mind. Redefining innovation for their role and organization is the solution. Rather than focusing on proof of concepts and business challenges, focus on creativity, mentorship and problem solving. Because when you show others innovation comes in many shapes and sizes, you’ll find your team can do more with less, because they’re redefining the future.



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