When someone says the word innovation, what words or images come to mind? Technology. Computers. Internet. Speed. I think this is a good starting point because most have become wired to think about innovation this way in a technology driven world.
For instance, last night I was listening to a guy on television talk about innovation- how great it was, how the businesses that will survive are doing it etc. Unfortunately, as is the case with most "innovation people," he was not easiest to follow. He rambled on in industry speak- inputs, outputs, resources, the convergence of ideas, and that one day we can take over the world from our handheld- concepts that really mean nothing to the viewer.
I started to question his knowledge of true innovation. If he really understood innovation, why can't he explain it in a way everyone understands. His explanation needed some innovative revisions to simplify it for the person buying his product.
Then I thought, how often do a lot of these so called "innovations" truly simplify the lives of the user.
Let's say for instance you have a question for your bank so you call them up. The phone rings and you have to talk to a computer for a few minutes- press one for this, six for this, eight for this. But you were probably looking for something completely different. It's frustration not innovation.
Conversely, look at Google. They became the internet search leader in part because of innovation. Go to the MSN homepage. Then go to Google's. See the difference. Innovative, simple and user-friendly.
The same goes to Apple. When you first take your Mac computer home, setting it up is a bit different then setting up your new PC. It's simple and easy.
Just to prove that you can innovate in a non-tech industry, I'll mention McDonald's. Their new drive-thru is two lanes, both open all the time. it's not two lanes open at lunch and dinner the rest of the time the customer has to figure it out. It's easy for the consumer and it speeds up your wait.
If your business is truly going to innovate, you must have the customer in mind at all times. So the next time you hear innovation, the first thought to mind is simplify.