Practical Innovation

Author: Robert Foster Co-founder of Red Ochre

I have lectured on innovation in many sectors including aeronautics, digital technology, healthcare & social innovation around the world (Estonia, China and the UK). Across all sectors there is often a feeling that their challenges are unique to them. Coming from outside of any particular sector and with a different perspective I can see that the details around a specific need or innovation are often distinct, but I have also noticed some general steps that can be approached to different sectors.

A couple of simple definitions

Before we jump into the process it might be useful to examine a couple of definitions of innovation, – of which there are many.

Steve Jobs, of Apple fame, once said “innovation is creativity that ships”. This is a pithy definition that works well most of the time. It looks out of the organisation to selling (“shipping”) products or services.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines innovation as “innovation (in something) as the introduction of new things, ideas or ways of doing something”. This definition takes a broader view and adds the processes and systems inside an organisation to the Jobs definition.

The key learning point is that innovation can be applied to the internal processes of your organisation as well as to the products and services you sell.

A practical process to innovate

I am quite practical in my approach, so the steps to the general process of innovation are simple. In fact, there are only four main steps.

  1. Identify themes, or look at the large areas of work that you want to do better, faster, cheaper of differently
  2. Ideation. This means coming up with lots of interesting ideas and prioritising those ideas. At its simplest this means thinking about which ideas you can do now, which ones you might do in the future, and ones you probably won’t do
  3. Testing your ideas. This is the process of testing or “validating” your product works, the client exists, the client has a need and so forth
  4. Implementation. Finally, you need to do something useful with your innovation. Moving from thinking about a solution, or developing an early stage version of a product or service to a fully-fledged process or source of revenue is much harder than it seems

You don’t need to follow this process from step 1 to step 4. You may find you need to take a step backwards to reassess your learning and change direction. These loop backs are called iterations. You can do this as often as you need to.

There is no such thing as failure in innovation – only deferred success.

Key learning points

  • Innovation can sound complex but it can also be simple to understand and apply to your business
  • Innovation can be applied to the internal processes of your organisation as well as to the products and services you sell
  • There are four steps to innovation
  1. Identify innovation themes
  2. Ideation in those innovation themes
  3. Testing your ideas
  4. Developing and implementing your innovation

Resources and further support

There are lots of tools, approaches and sources of help to get you started. Here are a few of the most accessible and practical:

City Business Library Practical Innovation course, run by me. This session will help you understand innovation through to implementation in just four session.

123Go! by, Dave Francis, University of Brighton. This is a quick and informal approach to identifying areas of your organisation suitable for innovation and to develop an initial action plan to get started.

The Innovation Canvas from the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) can help you decide if your idea can be developed and then commercialised.

Lean Start-up Canvas, by Ash Maurya, is an extension of the Business Model Canvas by Alex Osterwalder that focuses specifically on using tests and learning from those tests quickly

About the Author

Robert Foster is a co-founder of Red Ochre. He is interested in how organisations create, quantify and share value with their customers and society.

Red Ochre ( is a leading enterprise and social innovation consultancy working across the UK and 18 countries worldwide. Acknowledged by name is the UK parliament as experts in social enterprise, and recipients of numerous awards they have supported hundreds of enterprises to achieve trading success. Each year Red Ochre train more than 2,500 people around the world.

Attend Robert’s Practical Innovation Course at City Business Library.

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