Is ‘Innovation’ just ‘Strategy’ playing by a new set of rules?

Post by 
Graeme Curwen
November 13, 2018

his is something that has been playing on my mind since I started looking at innovation and was asked to define what innovation means.

Fundamentally is there a difference between innovation and strategy?

I’m going to throw it out there (and welcome people’s thoughts) but if you look at the core reason for existence of each of them I don’t see the difference between the two.

Both innovation and strategy are essentially processes by which you try to ‘inform’ (some say ‘guess’) how your organisation / department / business model etc should change to adapt to the environment as it is now and the one it faces in the future.

So some could say their core reason for existence is the same, they both exist to help shape and define the future direction.

Common to both is a clear vision / direction!

Common to defining a strategy and harnessing innovation, is identifying a clear vision, direction or rationale to underpin the strategy or innovation program.

This ensures that the strategy setters, or innovation idea owners, have focus and understand the parameters by which they are working.

Critically, it helps define the appetite of the organisation for change and the level of change acceptable to the decision makers within the organisation.

It’s the rules that make them different!

The difference comes in my eyes in the way that they are both executed, the people that are engaged in the process and the rules that are followed (or not followed as the case may be).

  • Strategy is generally an annual process
  • Innovation is typically an ongoing process
  • Strategy is driven from the top
  • Innovation is harnessed from the whole
  • Strategy is generally written by the experienced and the wise
  • Innovation is best derived from the inexperienced who are still questioning the status quo
  • Strategy tries to protect against failure
  • Innovation embraces failure (as long as you do it quickly, learn and move on)

Ponder on the idea that if we take the view that both innovation and strategy are essentially trying to achieve the same outcome (defining the future direction) but playing by a different set of rules, then this begs the question … Can innovation and strategy survive together and complement each other OR are they always going to be competing and conflicting forces within an organisation vying to be the defining answer?

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