We talk a lot about innovation in IT circles. Let's face it, some of the most exciting examples of innovation in our culture are centered around technology. Think of some common things in our lives - smartphones, social media, hybrid and plug in cars - none of which existed just 10 years ago.
But innovation is not only about a new invention or technology. Most times, what is truly innovative is actually just a different way of using or adapting something that already exists.
Have you ever heard of Roone Arledge? He was a television producer and the former President of ABC News and Sports. When he began his career, he created a major innovation in sports broadcasting that transformed the industry and is still used today.
Sports broadcasts in the 1960s had a few cameras around the stadium, and basically showed the game from a few angles. With Roone as producer of ABC Sports, he used multiple cameras on the field, to get "up close and personal" with the athletes. Instead of showing just a ball game, he wanted to tell a story about the drama of the game. With a series of handheld cameras, ABC was able to show a level of intimacy not seen before in sports broadcasting.
Was there anything dramatically new in terms of technology? No. Roone was able to innovate and transform sports broadcasting by changing the use of the existing technology of the time.
Steve Jobs was known as one of the most innovative thinkers and business persons in history. I am sure there is not a single person reading this that has not used, or been impacted by, an iPod, iPhone, iPad, or a Macintosh computer.
But do you know the inspiration of the design for the original Apple II personal computer? This was their first mass produced product that began the growth into what Apple is today. Personal computers in their early days were big bulky devices - think of an IBM PC with a large case and an even larger monitor on top. Did Steve Jobs follow this design for the new Apple II? Quite the opposite. The inspiration for the Apple II was actually found in the appliance section of a department store basement. Jobs wanted a computer for the masses, and it needed to align more to a kitchen appliance than a mysterious difficult to use system.
There were many engineering and software innovations behind one of the most popular early "easy-to-use" computers. What is most remembered however, for the innovation and transformation of the personal computer industry, was actually the design - and not the engineering. And that design was based on a common kitchen appliance - a food processor.
The pharmaceutical industry is really a giant innovation factory, and all of humanity is better for this. Companies spend years and billions of dollars to create a single drug or medication. But did you know that many of the innovations with medications were created almost by accident? Many drugs are developed for a particular ailment or medical condition. During trials, however, alternative therapies or indications are developed for the same medication. These alternative cures can often be more profitable than what the drug was originally formulated for.
Have you ever heard of sildenafil citrate? It is a drug originally developed for high blood pressure and heart angina in men. During clinical trials, however, this drug produced an interesting side effect. Pfizer obtained US Food and Drug Administration approval for the new indicated treatment, and sales of what is now marketed as Viagra reach about $1.9 Billion per year.
Innovation is often associated with a disruption in technology. While disruptive technology is certainly innovative - think cell phones., GPS navigation, laser printers, and microwave ovens - you do not need to invent a revolution in your organization to create innovative advances. Innovation can come from anywhere, and anyone.
In 2008, the FedEx Security Team was looking for ways to cut IT costs. A FedEx technical analyst realized that they could achieve energy savings by activating built-in Windows sleep features and utilizing FedEx's existing IT administration tools to manage the configuration changes. FedEx was able to manage the energy use on 20,000 computers worldwide after creating scripts using CA Client Automation with a resulting savings of over $1,000,000 per year.
Remember that innovation does not necessarily mean massive change or revolution. Sometimes reuse of existing technology and processes in a different way can be far more innovative than a new invention.
Do you have an "idea portal" or other mechanism for your employees to submit suggestions for improvement? Better yet, how do you engage your customers to solicit feedback?
So how will you begin the search for your next innovation?