4 Ways to Tell if You are Innovating

GoBlock USA
11 min readDec 15, 2022

by Christopher Davis, Principal at GoBlock USA

Last month I met with two supply chain leaders from large consumer products companies. We discussed their plans for the future. From both of them, I heard something like this:

“We are just not that innovative.”

It surprised me to hear this.

And, from what they told me, they really were innovating, but maybe it did not appear that way to them. Is that because they are in supply chain roles instead of more traditional innovation roles — like product development?

I fundamentally believe that all of us are innovators, and that we successfully innovate in our personal lives all the time. Take these examples of when we:

— find a quicker route to work or our kids’ activities;

— improve the space utilization of our garage, or figure out another use for that household gadget;

— invent a recipe for keto cookies, or a tastier way to smoke those ribs.

Why is this not innovation? I advocate that it is.

But, somehow, when we move into the professional arena, we change the definition of what it means to be “innovative,” and then suddenly, we are not innovative.

To tackle this head-on, let’s break down the four ways to tell if you are innovating. My bet is that you are already on that innovation journey.

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

To begin, we must agree on a definition: What is innovation?

We often think of innovation as creating something entirely new, but it can also be improving upon an existing idea. Innovation can explore developing a new product or service, or implementing a new way of completing a task (a new process), or finding a new way of solving a problem. This definition applies well to our concept of innovation in our personal lives above.

As we move this definition into the professional world, we need to add the layer that innovation must create greater Economic Value. That is, innovation should create or improve something for which customers will pay, or which will increase our profit.

To say it even simpler:

“Innovation is an improvement that adds value to our customers or makes us more money.”

Do you agree with this definition?

Many will propose that other drivers of innovation include non-monetary factors — such as the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) aspects of our world. I agree. And I also propose that those ESG factors eventually funnel back to either customer value or more money for us. If, in the long run, ESG innovations don’t attract more customers, or cost us too much money, then we go out of business.

So, for this article, we will focus on innovation as a vehicle to drive Economic Value. And, with a definition now in place, we turn to the Four Elements of Innovation:

Situation, Risk, Time, and Access

We will discuss each, and by understanding each, you will know that you are innovating.

Four Elements of Innovation

Situation

To embark on an innovation journey, you must first get your bearings. Are you solving an existing problem, or creating a new value? What is the cost of that problem? What is the benefit of that new value?

At this beginning stage of your journey, you need to quantify the Economic Value of the Situation that you are trying to innovate. Said a little more simply, “What will be the impact if you innovate?”

It is not enough to say that “fast acquisition of customers is important” or “we need to save time for the receiving team — they are overworked.” You need to quantify the business impact deeper than that, and be able to say something close to this:

“If we can improve this aspect of our offering, we could increase the customer base by 20% and create 1.6 gazillion in more profits”, or “If we can find a solution to this bottleneck, the shipping supervisors will also be able to handle the receiving operations thereby reducing our overhead costs by half, and that half is worth a 1/2 gazillion.”

Notice that you are in the “IF” stage. You have not yet created a new product or service, or improved a process. You don’t yet have a solution for the Situation. You have quantified that the Situation exists and confirmed that there is an opportunity to improve.

And that is the correct place to be at this stage. You need to quantify the Situation before spending resources to develop a solution.

So, if you are identifying problems or opportunities, and quantifying the Economic Value of the Situation, then you are innovating! Congratulations!

If you still need to identify a problem or opportunity, then now is a great time to start. Jump down to the end of this article at “How Do I Start?” Read that section first, brainstorm a quick idea (any idea, even a “crazy” idea, whatever first comes to mind), and then continue to read “Risk” in the next section.

Risk

Is innovation inherently risky? Does your Situation have to be risky to be considered a valid innovation effort?

Our definition of innovation says that we are introducing something new. The very nature of “new” means that some level of risk is involved in your innovation. So, yes, innovation is risky.

This Risk lies along a spectrum, and we can begin to categorize that Risk and determine if we should proceed.

The Innovation Risk Spectrum

See here the Innovation Risk Spectrum.

The top axis of the Spectrum is the Economic Value (EV) of the Situation. In the step above, you developed that EV, and now you can take a stab at labeling that EV as either “High” or “Low” based on the unique characteristics of your company.

The side axis of the Spectrum is the Urgency of the Situation. When we think about Urgency, we think in terms of this question:

“If we DON’T find a solution to the Situation, how painful will it be to our customers, or how painful will it be to our profits?”

As the Urgency moves from “High” to “Low” our ability to satisfy customers and continue to make a profit increases. That is, when we are at Low Urgency, we can keep the business running, and keep our profits in line, while we take the time to develop the solution. As before, make an informed decision and label your Situation as either “High” or “Low”.

Of course, our ideal spot on the spectrum is at “Go Big” where we have high Economic Value and low Urgency. In this example, we are attempting to double inventory turns, and we can continue to satisfy customers and maintain our profits while we develop that solution. If your Situation is in this spot, you should proceed ahead to the elements of Time and Access below.

For the “Improve” spot, we have the example of a new product line that is selling well, and we need to increase our processing capacity. This growth is a great problem to solve, and we need to move quickly because we could encounter pain if we don’t implement a solution soon. The elements of Time and Access are even more critical, so proceed ahead, and prioritize these “Improve” Situations.

The “Triage” and “Adjust” spots are at the low end of Economic Value. In both examples, the customer will not pay us more because we are in these Situations. And, we are not creating new profits but rather stemming our costs. If we use a personal life example, it would be like fixing a water leak at home. You are trying to stop the damage to your house and the resulting water bill, but you are not adding value to your property.

If you are in Triage or Adjust, then drop off the innovation path and use existing, known, and less risky resources to solve the Situation. Once stabilized, you can think again about how to innovate on the Situation.

Of course, there is much middle ground here, and you need to make the best-informed decision about where on the Spectrum you lie.

So, if you have determined where your Situation lies on the Innovation Risk Spectrum, and it makes sense to proceed forward, then you are innovating! Congratulations!

Time

I’m sure you have heard this before…

“All things can be solved with time and money.”

… and most people would agree. Well, at least in business :)

Have you also heard this?

“I am so busy running the day-to-day that I just don’t have the time to think about anything else.”

Maybe you have even said it.

I understand completely. It is very valid. You are paid to make the day-to-day happen, and that comes first.

So, knowing that it is a busy world, and realizing that you must innovate, I suggest you think about Time from two perspectives:

  1. If it is important enough, you will find the time.

That sounds very direct. But it’s true.

Let’s go back to a personal life example. Say you accidentally drop a diamond ring down a drain. I bet you will drop everything (pun) to solve for a way to retrieve that diamond ring. It is that valuable, and that urgent! You will find the time.

You may feel you don’t have the time to innovate on a professional project. In that case, you need to ask yourself if that innovation is really worth it?

Luckily, you have already quantified the Economic Value of the Situation, and you can make an informed decision on whether or not it is worth your time. If it is, then find the time!

2. Time can be purchased

Alternatively, you may decide that the Economic Value of the innovation is outstanding, but when you add the cost of your time, the Economic Value changes. That may be because when diverting your time to this innovation and away from other things, those other things will falter.

Your other option, then, is to buy Time from others.

You can buy Time by getting additional resources assigned from your department, or from others within the company, or from the many outside consultants who would be happy to help you.

Remember that you have already quantified the Economic Value of the Situation, so you are equipped to answer questions on why purchasing Time is the correct thing to do. If the cost of the purchased Time can still create an Economic Value, then you can buy that Time!

Yes, it is that straightforward. And if you feel that you need to purchase Time, then your task is to create a Request. This Request will summarize the current Situation, what you see as the future Situation, and what deliverables you need from others. You can then get quotes from that Request, compare those quotes to your Economic Value, and make an informed decision.

So, if you are spending your own Time, or making an economic justification for buying that Time from others, then you are innovating! Congratulations!

Access

Access is the ability to utilize expert knowledge and create innovative solutions. Access is a close cousin to Time, and unless you are already an expert in specific solutions, then Access might be the biggest hurdle you have to overcome in your innovation journey.

The world is evolving very fast. Every day, new companies are exploring new solutions to your Situation. That is good news! And means that there are lots of options out there that you can explore.

The bad news is that there are lots of options out there that you can explore :) How do you know what those options are? Where can you find them? How do you explore them?

To do that, you need to connect with the experts. You don’t necessarily need to become an expert yourself. Start by building awareness first and then developing your deeper knowledge. As you can imagine, this connection, awareness, and knowledge-building take time.

As we discussed before, one option is to spend your time making those connections. I can promise you a fun journey if you choose to do this. Learning about the many available solutions will infect you with the “kid in a candy store” syndrome — which no kid has ever complained about BTW.

Another option is to buy the knowledge of others who can provide you with those connections and give you that Access. Again, you already know the Economic Value of your Situation, and you can decide whether to buy that Access.

So, if you are connecting with experts to build awareness, or making an economic justification for buying that Access from others, then you are innovating! Congratulations!

What’s Next?

If you are already performing any one of the Four Elements above, then you are innovating.

Again, Congratulations!

If you are working on quantifying the Economic Value of the Situation, you should complete that step before you go any further. For more information on Defining the Situation, you can review our instructional video and materials at https://takle.co/step1.

Then, plot your Situation on the Innovation Risk Spectrum.

As you proceed, continue to make decisions about the Time you want to commit to the Situation, and connect with others to gain Access to solutions.

At this point, you can begin forming Hypotheses of solution alternatives. Forming Hypotheses starts with developing tangible and real options to solve your Situation.

We will discuss Hypotheses in our next blog.

Stay tuned, and follow us at GoBlock USA for new information.

How do I Start?

If you do not yet have a Situation in mind, then your Step #1 is to Find a Situation.

The easiest way to Find a Situation is to start with a problem you already have. It’s just easier to start with problems. It does not have to be a big problem — just any problem where you know it is not being done as well as it should be.

Then, “Go Big” and answer the questions below. You should think like this….if you had a magic wand and you could control all information, and make anyone and everyone behave as you need, and you could make sure equipment and computers never break down, and the sun never set… (you get my point).

  1. Suppose you could improve that Problem/Situation to be precisely perfect, all the time, and every time. What would that new Situation look like?
  2. Now, back to reality… what is occurring to cause the current Situation to be less than perfect? (what Actions are occurring? Are there bad inputs to the Action — such as insufficient data, poor materials, inadequate training?)
  3. What Output is happening as a result? (What is being affected — cost, quality, production goals? and Who is being affected — customers, internal associates, shareholders?)

If you need a further jump-starter for this exercise, you can review our instructional video and materials at https://takle.co/step1.

That should get you off to a good start. Now that you have a Situation in mind, go back to the Risk section in this article and read the remainder.

Good luck!

GoBlock USA and Takle is an implementation firm for logistics projects and the IT supporting those projects. We partner with growing companies to work as their Advocate and represent their best interests to the industry. We collaborate with solution providers to successfully meet our clients’ business case, and bring the solution from concept into reality.

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