What really makes something innovative?

What really makes something innovative?

iAwards judges discuss the more quiet forms of innovation

Innovation is usually considered to be the revolutionary, disruptive ideas or inventions that rapidly sweep over the world, making a huge impact. But sometimes it’s those quiet achievers who can make just as big an impact without having to be ostentatious about it.

CIO Australia spoke to iAwards judges Claudine Ogilvie, CIO of Ridley Corporation, and Dr Ian Oppermann, CEO of RoZetta Technology, about how being innovative doesn’t always necessarily mean strictly focusing on making history but more so on making meaningful impact on people’s lives.

Judges are keeping an eye out for the quiet achievers at this year's iAwards, which recognises excellence in the technology industry. Nominations close end of March 25.

“It doesn’t always have to be radical innovation. There are different types of innovations out there – anything from the incremental or low risk stuff, which is all about what do we do today and how can we do it better, to revolutionary style innovation,” says Ogilvie.

“There are a lot of assumptions when businesses think about innovation, but ultimately I think innovation means something different to every business. And I think it’s really important to call that out and not enough businesses do. What sort of innovation do we want? What are we looking to achieve?”

Oppermann says addressing a fundamental human need or solving a real world problem that others haven’t been able to do as successfully as you is at the heart of innovation.

“There are plenty of good ideas out there that are clever and some of them are really technically interesting, but an innovation that tackles a problem, in particular one that is complex or really difficult to crack, is what I think is truly innovative.

“It’s doing it in a clever way; something that really tackles a problem from a completely different perspective. And if you can demonstrate it does it in a way that’s simple and straight forward, so not only novel but easy for people to use, then that’s an absolute winner,” he says.

The curious minded or the ones who ask questions and seek answers are usually ones who are innovative in their thinking, so asking questions is an important early part of the process of creating innovation, Oppermann says.

“Lots and lots of companies talk about being innovative. Really, the opportunity exists to start asking questions,” he says.

“What are the questions you would like to be able to ask and answer? Some of those questions may not be answerable but then you can break it down into: What are the slightly smaller questions which can be answered which would add most value?”

He gives an example of Sense-T in Tasmania, a smart farming initiative that uses sensor data to optimise farming operations. The developers of this project first started out talking to farmers and the community, asking questions and gaining a deep understanding of the problems they are trying to solve. This was important in shaping the technology to be effective and successful, he said.

Read: Farming the smart way

Putting frameworks in place to ensure research projects or non business-as-usual activities don’t fall by the wayside and do eventually get made into something is also important, Ogilvie says.

“It starts out a great idea, but then sometimes it sort of goes nowhere because they don’t know how to implement it and make it happen. You can put frameworks in place to help manage that 'ideation to execution' process, ensuring employees who do have innovative ideas can fail fast and that good ideas aren’t wasted.”

Innovation is hard work and it may not be adopted right away, Ogilvie says. Some of the biggest innovations in the world were not immediately widely adopted or made impact until many years after they were invented.

“Particularly with change that’s very visionary or very advanced and disruptive. That’s going to create a lot of change and change is hard and it’s human nature to protect what we know. It might make something else redundant, so there’s an element of destruction here.

“And you’ve got a lot of parties out there who have vested interests and investments in legacy technology, and that doesn’t go away overnight. But that doesn’t make the innovation any less important,” she says.

Oppermann gives an example of the mathematician George Boole, who invented Boolean logic. Before it became the cornerstone of how computers operate, it was “pointless” when it first came out, he says.

The mobile phone is another example, he says. Mobile phones were big, clunky and not that useful when they first came out, but they served a need.

"When GSM [global system for mobile] came along, it took a really long time for the numbers to pick up but then all of a sudden they went like hot cakes and everyone had to have a mobile phone.

“Quite often there’s a really long slow burn before an idea takes off. But when it does it can be much, much bigger than we expected," he says.

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