How do you foster innovation?

By Elaine Mah

I was struck by a statement made by President Obama during his recent State of the Union address : “The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” What captivated me was the clarity of his vision, yet its successful execution is anything but clear. How do you foster innovation? It’s a question that all countries, not just the US, must ask if they have any intention of keeping their national economies productive and competitive.

One of the core challenges to encouraging innovation lies in how the notion itself is perceived. Far too often, innovation is used synonymously with invention, which is an unfair burden. Invention, the creation of something entirely new is, to me, a frankly terrifying idea. I know of nothing more idea-stunting than staring at a blank slate. Innovation should be seen as the subtle act of taking something we already know or do and, through modification, improve upon it in some manner or fashion.

A truly remarkable aspect of innovation is that we may not even be aware that significant change has occurred until someone else points it out to us. Incremental adjustments or improvements taking place over the course of doing business may not stand out to those working in the midst. This is especially true for smaller business owners who often do not have the luxury of investing in R&D or running trials in parallel to the main operation – it’s more than enough simply to keep the business running day to day.

Quite often, it takes an external party to highlight and acknowledge the achievement, which is why it’s important that business owners and management not operate in isolation. Actively seeking networking groups that allow managers and owners to interact and exchange ideas with peers can either provide insights into your operation or serve as a catalyst for change. It’s also good practice to review case studies that feature applied solutions and strategies proven to drive productivity, competitiveness and innovation. There are also many institutional or industry-led programs that aim to celebrate business innovation through inspiration or affirmation.

So getting back to the question I posed earlier, “how do you foster innovation?” I have no single, pat answer, but what is clear to me is that innovation cannot evolve in a vacuum. The more we talk about it, actively seek it, highlight and celebrate it, the more likely we are to accomplish it.

Elaine Mah joined Intel Canada in 2005 as Canadian Business Marketing Manager. She is responsible for Intel's brand management, product positioning, product launch management and marketing research, as well as sales and integrated marketing communications, advertising and promotional campaigns designed to reach Canadian business customers. Prior to assuming this position, Elaine was Vice President at Sharpe Blackmore Euro RSCG, where she was responsible for planning and strategy on accounts including Direct Energy, Volvo, and Yahoo!, along with new business development. A marketing professional for over 20 years, Elaine received her Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Alberta.

By Adam

March 02, 2011