Braden Kelley’s recent webinar, Innovation Is All About Change, took us on a guided tour to the intersection of innovation and change. He accomplished his goal of getting us to become better aware of the lay of the land, understand the dynamics of what really goes on there and prepare us on how to navigate the tricky terrain. While his first book on innovation, Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire, was mainly about how to remove barriers to innovation, this webinar and his upcoming new book are all about best practices and next practices of innovation and change management for a firm of any size.

Braden started by clarifying the difference between invention and innovation. While inventions are new ideas and can be interesting and potentially useful, innovations inspire people to use them. They provide enough value to cause people to replace their previous solutions to problems and issues, which could include doing nothing about them at all. “Remember that the market decides whether something 'new' is an invention or an innovation, not you. Innovation really needs a meaningful connection -- [we] have to connect with our customers, uncover those key insights, understand where the unmet needs lie and how best to meet those needs.”

So, the core tenet of innovation is that it is all about change that adds value. The trick for would-be innovators to understand, though, is that “value” is composed of three parts:

1.) value creation, 2.) value translation and 3.) value access. You need to deliver value in all three of these dimensions and know how cumulatively powerful they are together. “They don’t add up together, they multiply.”

Value creation: This is the easiest part of innovation to explain. It’s all about making things more efficient and more effective, making something possible that was not before and helping customers achieve psychological and emotional benefits. But know that this is just the start. The next step is crucial.

Value translation: The most important part of innovation is helping to translate that value that you have created so users understand how that innovation gets into their lives. If it is an incremental change (doing something slightly better), it is easier to understand. If your innovation is a bigger change from where things are (more disruptive), it takes more effort to explain. The farther down the spectrum toward disruptive, the more you need to plan for, budget and educate.

Value access: This part of innovation is usually talked about as “friction reduction." It’s about making it easier to use, to navigate, to organize or manage, making it easier to start and providing a place where people can truly experience the new innovation by getting personal instruction on how to extract the value. Apple created centers, started development conferences and essentially built an ecosystem around how to get more from its innovation. Know that strategic partners can help add value here.

Braden said that the ability to be more innovative and create change in an organization of any size requires vision, fluidity and agility, but most important, it requires leadership commitment and firmwide alignment, a shared buy-in and an ability to sustain it throughout the process. The key differentiator between firms in all this is their rate of speed -- of being faster than the competition. “It’s about how fast can you innovate and change. Speed enables or disables.”

Firms need to be aware of the potential “change gaps” within their firms:

  1. Speed of hiring: if lower than your growth, you may be squandering your potential or level of success as you can’t keep up and others enter.
  2. Speed of innovation versus competition: if there is an internal mind set that everything is a priority, nothing gets to the finish line or it gets there slowly. The need to be fully committed to innovation is a high-priority item.
  3. Speed of market understanding: if it is slower than the speed of market change, you are setting yourself up so that customers are changing faster than your ability to react to them.
  4. Speed of insight dissemination and acceptance: the ability for ideas to move through the organization so opportunities don’t pass you by.
  5. Speed of idea commercialization: The product or service development process should be agile enough so you can grab opportunities quickly.
  6. Speed of internal change: if slower than outer external change, you will get run over from behind.

Why Speed Is Needed

It was pointed out that the pace of overall innovation and change in our world is accelerating. It took the telephone 70 years to go from 0 percent to 90 percent usage; cell phones moved to 70 percent adoption in 15 years and smartphones will no doubt be substantially faster than that. The pace of technology creation and adoption is accelerating.

At the same time, the average life span of the S&P 500 firm used to be 61 years and now it’s down to eight years. This means that established, successful companies are finding themselves becoming irrelevant faster. Companies such as Kodak, Blockbuster and Circuit City have fallen by the wayside. Even mainstays such as McDonalds and Walmart are starting to run into trouble with slowing earnings and bad international expansions. That's because they have not challenged their core assumptions and stayed connected to their customers.