What does innovation really mean?

This blog is part of a series published on WEFLIVE from young leaders in the One Young World community who are addressing issues across the world relating to the World Economic Forum 2017 theme of 'Responsive and Responsible Leadership'.


Innovation has maintained ‘buzzword’ status for over a decade with no end in sight, leading to a cultural reverence and fostering of the term. Our politicians, academics, executives and thought-leaders preach innovation as a powerful force that blends technology and business to produce value. It is often referenced as key driver of economic growth and prosperity. But what is innovation? This surface-level acknowledgement doesn’t do justice to the tangible practice and thought behind the word.

Innovation is not a mystical force, it is rather a set of skills and methods that can be translated, taught and proliferated through organized groups. Our trusted institutions tout the benefits of innovation as a catch-all phrase but its building blocks are not in the same spotlight. These building blocks have been documented in various collective works, each carrying similar threads through their teachings. Design Thinking championed by IDEO, the bestseller The Innovator’s DNA, The Lean Startup approach popularized by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries and many more have distilled innovation into recipes. And like their flavourful counterparts, these recipes follow similar patterns when it comes to achieving innovation.

Leaders in the public and private sectors are currently crafting physical and virtual spaces with the goal of fostering innovation and paving the next wave of progressive inventions. This thirst for innovation is matched with a growing trend of inclusion in these same business, political and academic spheres. Exploring the relationship between these two concepts reveals a symbiosis which organizations can capitalise on to provide an even greater and more tangible benefit. We cannot foster a more sustainable future without embracing this.

When you employ inclusiveness at a high level, success is inevitable. For example, companies with the most women board directors had 16% higher Return on Sales (ROS) than those with the least, and 26% higher Return on Invested Capital. Building awareness of the benefits of inclusion will revolutionise the way companies and governments are run. IDEO famously has no hierarchy or management structure in its teams, and all ideas are equal when pitched.

The mere act of studying innovation methods and its trickle-down benefits provides a strong foundation for inclusive environments and behaviour. Let’s hope more of our leaders peel back the curtain behind this buzzword in 2017.

The author of this blog is a One Young World Ambassador developing innovative mobility solutions for an automobile manufacturer.