What does it mean to be Innovative?

Today I was asked the question, what does it mean to be innovative? I think I gave a decent answer at the time, but I could help but continue thinking about it more afterwards. So what does it mean to be innovative?

Being innovative is visioning the future before it happens and then betting on it. It’s not easy, and it’s not reliable. Innovation involves taking risks by taking the road never-before traveled. Organizations that are innovative inspire and awe as they seem to defy all common belief, and while many companies speak of being innovative, few really are.

I recently read the Steve Jobs biography and as a result have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for both him and Apple. He believed in developing a “computer for the masses” and believed it could be done by finding the intersections between art and technology. To this day, Apple continues to live by this idiom, making beautifully crafted, intuitive products that people are proud to call their own.

In the transportation industry, Uber has been a major innovator, taking the taxi industry by storm in recent years. By revolutionizing the way we call, ride in, and pay for taxi service, Uber gained a competitive advantage and years later the rest of the industry is still trying just to catch up. And they didn’t stop there – they continue to try crazy ideas like helicopter taxi service, and a puppy delivery service. These ideas may seem a little too farfetched, but it’s an example of how the company manages to think boundlessly.

Tesla Motors is yet another example of a leading innovator. For years, major automakers shunned electric cars on the idea that there wasn’t enough demand and the industry wouldn’t be profitable. Tesla, however, saw past these naysayers to a future where every car is electric and embraced the idea of making electric cars for the masses. To date, they have sold 70,000 vehicles and have had so much demand that their vehicles are commonly backordered! To keep the ball (or tire) rolling, Tesla recently begun development of a $5 billion “gigafactory” in the US where it will mass-produce and research new battery technologies.

While innovation alone won’t guarantee success, a lack of it will almost certainly lead to failure. Innovative organizations have a clear idea of what they stand for, and are able to draw on the passion of their employees to fuel their success. Is your organization innovative? What are its aspirations? And most importantly, where do you fall in the big picture?

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