Innovation (n):

September 15, 2017 by Cara Stellato

The term “innovative” is a widely used word within the marketing and digital agency world. Most agencies use this word to describe their culture and/or their “unique” way of performing their key agency functions and capabilities. However, as unique as this term is meant to be, its use is no longer as innovative as most agencies think, mainly because everyone uses it, and they use it without understanding specifically what it means to them.

One of Lumi’s core values does use this word: “To pursue excellence in creativity and innovation”. You might be thinking to yourself, ‘But what does that really mean?’ While Melissa and I had our own ideas of what this meant to us over a year and a half ago when we wrote out our Core Values, our agency has changed quickly and drastically since then, and with that, the meaning behind this specific core value has evolved. We wanted to know what this meant to everyone in our company as a whole, so we set out to understand what innovation first means in different contexts, how we can pursue it, and lastly, what it now means to us as a company.

Core Values

Innovation is defined in the dictionary as a noun, meaning “the introduction of something new”, or “a new idea, method, or device”. Others tend to disagree that innovation can only mean doing something in a new way. One CEO defined innovation as “Turning an idea into a solution that adds value from a customer’s perspective”. Another kept it simple with “Staying relevant”. A more elaborate definition was “A great idea, executed brilliantly, and communicated in a way that is both intuitive and fully celebrates the magic of the initial concept.” All in all, there are many definitions and interpretations of what innovation is, which is why its so important for each company to determine its own meaning, in order to keep the idea of innovation, innovative.

Three questions we posed to the Lumi team to think about, as we seek our organizations meaning of innovation, were:

  1. What is your individual definition of innovation?
  2. Do we (Lumi) consistently define ourselves as being innovative?
  3. If so (the consensus was yes), how are we innovative?

The next step in this process is gaining an understanding on how innovation is measured. There was a very insightful article on that spoke about this topic and how the global design firm, Ideo, set out to answer that question. They started by studying the company’s 26-year archive of projects that focused on clients’ internal team dynamics, as well as external sources focused on innovation.

Through their research and studies, they found that the most important element is an organization’s ability to adapt and respond to change. In order to create a model for other businesses to be able to replicate and discover their measurement of innovation, they identified six basic vectors that are instrumental to an innovative, adaptive company:

  1. Purpose
  2. Experimentation
  3. Collaboration
  4. Empowerment
  5. Looking Out
  6. Refinement

They created a chart to define what each of these vectors mean:
Innovation ChartI then asked the team, which of these do we do really well, and which of these do we need to improve upon? The overall consensus on what we did well was easy: Collaboration. As an agency, we make it a point to include as many people as possible through multiple processes to make sure that we are both sharing ideas and learning from one another. As far as what we needed to improve upon, we had a bit of a split: Looking out and Refinement.

Lastly, before we posed the final questions for the team to take with them, we outlined what we need to ensure every team member is taught in order to reach that point of adaptability that lends itself to being innovative:

  1. Challenge invisible orthodoxies: We need to be contrarians, however we must also understand the difference between wants and needs.  
  2. Harness under appreciated trends: We need to be tracking trends our competitors haven’t yet noticed, then take those trends and figure out ways of using them to upend traditional strategies.
  3. Leverage embedded competencies and assets: Everyone at Lumi works here for a reason; they are an invaluable asset not just to the organization, but to each other. As Innovators, we need to see our organization, and the world around it, as a portfolio of skills and assets that can be endlessly recombined into new products and busi­nesses.
  4. Address unarticulated needs: In addition to comprehending what our clients want, we need to encourage them to move forward with what they truly need in order to get there. Continuous improvement should extend beyond our process, and into how we observe and make recommendations for our clients.

To close, we tasked each team member to answer the following questions over the next couple of weeks: What is Lumi’s definition of innovation? And how can we, as as organization, measure its success?

As our company continues to grow and adapt, the answers to these questions will evolve, however, as we progressively build out our own definition of what it means to be ‘innovative’, it is important for everyone within our agency to maintain a collective level of its meaning so that we can continuously pursue excellence in creativity and innovation.