Say “innovation” and most people think “iPhone” or “Airbnb” – a unique new product offering that totally up-ends industries and spawns new ones. But the reality is far more nuanced than that.

Uniquely ingenious products

But let’s say we are talking about new product design – have our innovation processes moved with the times?

Traditional product design methods are linear, top-down affairs. A visionary force in the business conceives a solution meeting a real need. A ‘new product’ team creates variations around the core idea, settles on one, takes it through multiple iterations of redevelopment and testing, and still, 4 out of 5 fail.

The key thing to note is that great ideas do not just emerge from someone’s job description; they come from interns, customers, the blogosphere, different regional experiences, and a thousand other origins. We cannot pigeonhole innovation to an individual, a team or a project any longer; to innovate, companies must commit to a culture of listening for the unexpected.

Reimagining work

This also requires reimagining work. What does an innovative workplace look like? How do we manage and motivate the younger generation? Are we daring to be different and allowing creative thought in an environment that fosters collaboration?

Transformed experiences

And what about innovation that doesn’t involve new products? In the words of one scribe, innovation can be a new media or marketing approach, game-changing pricing, servicing or engagement policy, or a brand-new mix of ingredients.

The common denominators are simply authenticity, a human need and an ambition to provide a new experience. Are we looking out for those elements in our experiences and those of our customers, or are we blind to them?

Operational mobilisation

And what about operational innovation?

PwC’s Global Operations Survey (2015) found that 72% of COOs expected continued disruption until 2020 – in the form of new business models, changing customer buying patterns, changes in core manufacturing technologies and consumer platforms, and more.

For many, continuous operational improvement will no longer be enough, with 36% saying they’re focused on transformative change and new ways of creating value.

Are you keeping up?

New use for old technologies

Even old technologies can find new uses.

Nikola Tesla’s electromagnetic transmitter may have had too short a range for above-ground communication, but it is great for blasting signals through solid rock to communicate with trapped miners. You can also salvage and upcycle a lot of old intellectual property (read junk) if repurposing is a concern (as it should be).

Who knew that the smartest innovation of our age might just be retro chic?