The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

Redefining Innovation

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The American Heritage Dictionary simply defines innovation as “The act of introducing something new.”  ((American Heritage Dictionary.  Retrieved from on April 3, 2007.))

ZDnet has a pretty nice CIO interview series.  In one of them, Steve Cooper, the CIO of the Red Cross talks about innovation and some of their hurdles from the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  Mr. Cooper states, “I used to think that innovation represented brand new ideas that nobody had thought up before. Now what I realize is that innovation can take additional forms. It can simply be the application or reuse of other people’s ideas in an environment where that idea has not been introduced before.”  ((Cooper, Scott.  “Fostering innovation in the midst of disasters.”  Retrieved from on April 3, 2007.))

I’m not entirely sure I agree with his definition of innovation.  I think that for the most part, we think of innovation as something that is new to the world, an idea that will give our company a cutting edge advantage for a period of time.  Mr. Cooper’s redefinition strikes me as simply catching up to your competitors.  He does however have some ideas on fostering innovation.

What I’ve tried to do and how I believe you can create and influence a culture of innovation and, quite frankly, a culture of risk taking – appropriate risk taking – is to leverage a level of what we’ve labeled a “center of excellence.” So you take people who are bright, talented, not afraid to fail, not afraid to take risks, who can think out of the box, so to speak, I know that’s a bit of a cliché phrase, but it really does mean to think differently than the way things are normally done, and to give them really difficult problems. You give that to a couple centers of excellence, and the centers of excellence, by the way, might be uniform skill sets.  ((Ibid))

So put a real pilot in place and see whether it works. If it works, then what we want to do is begin to expand that out to more and more geography, more parts of the business, to more business units. If it doesn’t work, we don’t give up. We take a look and say “well, what happened here? How come we expected this to happen, it didn’t happen.” We make adjustments and we kind of go at it again.  ((Ibid))

Instead we’ve created a very small, six people, six people, innovation center and it is literally named “innovation center.”  Those people are not focused on pie in the sky over the horizon technology. They work directly with our client account managers, the customer facing folks that work directly with business units and they’re part of the IT organization but they’re business people. They’re requirements analysis people. They understand business first and they may have some, but they’re not in deep technology experts. They figure out what are the business objectives, goals, challenges that are face by our business units. They then sit down with the innovation center staff and they say “hey look, I need to figure out a way to…”  ((Ibid))

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2 responses to “Redefining Innovation”

  1. Redefining Innovation The American Heritage Dictionary simply defines innovation as “The act of introducing something new.” 1. ZDnet has a pretty nice CIO interview series. In one of them, Steve Cooper, the CIO of the Red Cross talks about innovation and … [

  2. Scot Herrick Avatar

    I think Steve’s definition is OK. Innovation in an organization is doing something that hasn’t been done before in that organization. Whether it is something from an different company or practice, if you are doing it the first time in your organization, it would be innovative.

    It may not be ORIGINAL, but it is innovative.