Innovation is a popular topic among IT professionals and media. It’s also one of the more misunderstood concepts. If you ask 10 CIOs what IT innovation means to them or to their companies, you will get 10 different answers. You will get some original thought on it; you will also get some useful nugget that someone borrowed from someone else.
This ambiguity is one reason why we have started to talk more directly to CIOs about IT innovation, with the CIO Innovators: Profiles in IT and Business Leadership. Not innovation in an abstract sense, but really, what role did innovation play in the execution of a successful IT project? Was the original idea born out of innovative thinking, or did innovative methods enable the project to get off the ground or clear significant hurdles along the way?
What we are seeing is that what’s more important than the random innovative thought or impulse is being able to create a culture of innovation in which out-of-the-box thinking can thrive. More to the point, to create a culture in which innovation is part of everything you do.
An example of this is from Steven John, CIO of H.B. Fuller, who explained that an innovative environment is a function of time. You have to allot time to people to develop ideas, and you have to have enough foresight into the goals of an organization that you can start planning how to get there early — early enough that you can still bat multiple ideas around rather than have to stick to one because there isn’t time to think of an alternative.
John also said that in order to free up time to think in an innovative way, you have to make sure that no one is wasting their time or others’ in day-to-day activities and that no one is duplicating tasks. “If you are doing something that someone else can do, then things that only you can do are not getting done,” he said.
Make that a resolution for 2011: Eliminate wasted time. That may not be “innovative” in itself, but it could put you on the right track.