What is innovation? Innovation is a term that has gained mass popularity since the recession began and companies all around the world started to think differently.

Every week that passes, another casualty of the recession is publicised with many companies seeking innovation as the holy grail, the saviour of their business. For a term that is used so frequently in our everyday lives, innovation holds a unique quality in that it is a term that is difficult to define, leading to misinterpretations of what it is and isn't. My own research on the subject found a popular innovation blog that listed over 25 definitions for the term. For example, Wiki defines it as “Innovation is the application of new solutions that meet new requirements, inarticulate needs, or existing market needs.” That statement certainly comes close to encapsulating what innovation is but imagine reiterating that at your next board meeting. I personally prefer a more simplistic definition and I think Scott Anthony’s 'Little Black Book on Innovation' defines it well; Innovation - something different with impact.

Hidden within this simple statement are the underlying foundations of innovation; however there are two nuances which require clarification to make it more meaningful; different and impact. Different is the target for innovation. It can apply to any context and suggests that it is dependent on what service, product, or customer you are trying to change, after all innovation is in the eye of the beholder. Impact in this context is a form of measurable result be it profit, performance or efficiency. Some of you might be wondering why technology and creativity aren't mentioned in this definition. Technology in itself is not innovation; it can help achieve innovative solutions but is often misunderstood. The same goes for creativity, whilst it is an important part of the innovative process, it is only an element and again is not in itself innovation.

What's all the commotion about?

So we've defined innovation? But do we really need it? In his 1996 book ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’, former Intel CEO Andy Grove provides a good reason why it’s so important for businesses to embrace innovation “It is at such times of fundamental change that the cliché ‘adapt or die’ takes its true meaning. The increasing pace of change means that these times of fundamental change are ever-present; the new normal is perceptual change.” It is the companies that grasp this concept of perpetual change that will succeed in this new era of business and for those who don’t, well you only need to walk down the high street to experience first hand how the cliché ‘adapt or die’ rings true.

Not just a design. It's a culture too

We've defined it, we need it, but how do we improve innovation in the workplace? There is no single answer to this question but a variety of methods can help and assist with this ideal. Ultimately your organisation wants to create a culture of innovation, a space where staff from all aspects of the business challenges the status quo and embrace failure. But why are some companies more successful at innovating than others? At our recent seminar on ‘Activity Based Working’, we spoke about how Google help foster innovation by allowing all their staff twenty per cent time to work on anything they want.

This strategy has led to some of their most successful products; Gmail, Adwords and Google Docs to name a few. However innovation doesn’t just happen whilst sitting at your desk, you need an environment that stimulates thought and allows you to think differently. Google’s offices are a great example of how the design of an office reflects their commitment to constant innovation. They don’t have ski lifts, beach huts and log cabins for aesthetic reasons, these areas are purposefully designed for Googlers to use during their twenty per cent time, spaces to get away from it all and encourage new ways of thinking. Spaces that bring people together to feel comfortable and inspired whilst encouraging the free flow of thought.