Connecting Innovation to Purpose

The importance of innovation to help a firm stay ahead of its competitors is a regular topic for business and academic texts. Connecting innovation to purpose is about ensuring the magic of innovation is resonating deeply in the emotional drivers and values of staff responsible for ensuring its success.

This is aligned to the question Simon Sinek asks when he says “Start with Why”. He writes about how leaders make the connection between an idea and what drives or motivates them (individual purpose).

Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers had little in common, but they all started with WHY. They realized that people won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea until they understand the WHY behind it.

Simon Sinek – Start With Why 2011
Credit: Maurício Mascaro, Pexels

Innovation is the way that successful companies grow. Innovation is the way new products and services are identified, proven and marketed. Innovation is the way organisations become more efficient optimising cost through business process streamlining. Innovation is the way that sales channels seek better ways to engage with customer base to better meet their needs.

Purpose driven innovation connects your efforts with why it is important that you, your team and your organization solve a particular problem.” 

Kristann Orton

To connect Innovation to Purpose, it needs to have an innovation strategy. The strategy structures how the organisation intends approach and deliver the outcome. As with most things if you

Innovation requires discretionary effort by employees. You can’t force me to innovate. You can’t say ‘I demand you to innovate.’ If I’m going to do it, I’m going to dig down inside myself. 

Tammy Erickson, London Business School

As Pisano states in HBR “A strategy is nothing more than a commitment to a set of coherent, mutually reinforcing policies or behaviors aimed at achieving a specific competitive goal. Good strategies promote alignment among diverse groups within an organization, clarify objectives and priorities, and help focus efforts around them.”

“Innovation initiatives frequently fail, and successful innovators have a hard time sustaining their performance—as Polaroid, Nokia, Sun Microsystems, Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard, and countless others have found. Why is it so hard to build and maintain the capacity to innovate? The reasons go much deeper than the commonly cited cause: a failure to execute.”

Gary P. Pisano – Harvard Business Review June 2015

In 2018 a study that EY ran with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) they found that

  • Purpose strengthens innovation by making a meaningful connection between the concept and the benefits, it goes far beyond traditional corporate metrics
  • Purpose facilities better external collaboration (across organisational boundaries)
  • Purpose enables organisations to think differently so they can act differently.

As Tammy Erickson (Executive Fellow Organisational Behaviour at London Business School) explains innovation requires people to dig deep within themselves, fuelled by intrinsic interest in the work. Innovation requires employee to go beyond the usual level of effort “You can’t force me to innovate. You can’t say ‘I demand you to innovate’. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to dig down inside myself.” She describes five types of worker

  1. Employees for whom work is not the priority – dependable and hardworking but unlikely to be a creative disruptor.
  2. Employees who care deeply about Social Purpose – those who believe the work they are doing will help change the world.
  3. Employees who are motivated by stability and career progression.
  4. Employees who are motivated by team and collaboration
  5. Employees who are risk takers and love to push ‘it to the limits’

Key Takeaways

  • Innovation is what makes companies lift performance and lead in the market.
  • Innovation requires employees to be motivated to go the extra mile and to apply their passion and grit to new ideas without fear of failure
  • By connecting innovation to purpose you are aligning with the personal values and drivers of the employee.
DIGEST of an article from Fast Company
Connecting Innovation to Purpose
By Kohler

and from HBR
You Need an Innovation Strategy
by Gary P. Pisano
Published: June 2015

and from Inceodia | Medium
How Connecting with “Why” Propels Purpose-Driven Innovation
By Kristann Orton
Published: 23rd March 2019

and from EY
How a higher purpose drives better innovation
Published: 28th March 2018

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