CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It is often unclear how critical the art of innovation is to the continued success of any progressive society.
A short review of history demonstrates the countless times innovation has saved or at least improved the lot of mankind. Sometimes it is through a slow and methodical progression. At other times it is a sudden breakthrough that changes the direction and scope of our growth.
Either way the change is recorded after the fact. It is almost impossible to predict a successful innovation. If we could, then we could save on a lot of false starts.
Individuals and organizations alike speak to the need for innovation, but few would recognize it presented on a silver platter.
A well-run operation always works to cut costs and improve quality. In doing so, there is a natural reluctance to fix what appears isn't broken. This often becomes the goal to the exclusion of any new ideas that might upset the current operation.
This is not to say that we aren't all trying to identify and nurture new ideas and concepts. The problem comes from trying to do so from the existing stage we all currently work from.
In larger agencies and organizations there is a tendency to fragment innovative efforts because each group clearly thinks they can do it best within the processes and programs that are currently familiar to them. The direct result is the creation of silos that academia, government, and corporate America have no single claim over.
There is a need to differentiate invention from innovation. An invention is an idea. An innovation is the idea applied successfully. Numerous programs locate and identify inventors and their inventions, but few carry those same ideas to market. Note that inventions are a dime a dozen, while innovations, the toughest piece of the puzzle, drives our economy and social order forward.
Most innovative technologies, especially those considered game changers, will spring from the science and engineering disciplines, but each new innovation will require the banding together of several non-technical disciplines to become successful.
The programs that are ultimately successful recognize that the rule set for what works today could, in fact, deter or snuff out innovation for tomorrow. The solution is to recognize that individuals doing great in their current jobs are those same people less likely to recognize and develop innovative changes. That's why when formal efforts are established to foster innovation within well-oiled organizations, there is seldom any long-term market value created, or at least a lot less than there should be.
Most of these efforts are self-measured as successful against standards that are part of their organizers' existing wheelhouse. What you get are a large number of ideas, an improvement in the skill set of some of the participants, but little if any change in the innovation environment.
Most of these organized innovation efforts advertise for that innovator or entrepreneur who just needs a little help to get that grand idea to market. Programs are advertised for entrepreneurial use but the final selection process is often left in the hands of those least knowledgeable of the technology and its potential impact. This also means they are less likely to know how to penetrate the market for the ones they do select.
Directors or managers of these efforts are themselves judged by metrics of success that have little connection to making changes in our economic sector. Thus, we get what we pay for, but not necessarily what we need.
Entrepreneurs, by their very persistence and shear gall, who do make it into the marketplace, become poster children for the programs that seemed to spawn them.