How or Why do we Measure Innovation?

I have a problem with measuring – sometimes we get so caught up in the measuring and the explaining and the reporting and the justifying – that we forget what it was we actually started out trying to achieve.

My maternal grandmother was a great cook (she was a Greek grandmother so it really goes without saying). She expressed her love for us all through the wonderful things she cooked – spinach pie, honey cake, spaghetti Greek style and lots more. My father shared her love of cooking and was determined he would record her recipes so that they could be shared for generations to come.

So, there they were, in the tiny kitchen at her house in Rainbow St, Randwick, Yiayia cooking and dad, with pen and paper in hand, ready to capture and record ingredients and processes for future use. Yiayia would pick up eggs, flour, bunches of spinach (which she grew in her garden), whatever she needed and throw them in. Dad was constantly asking, “how much flour…how many eggs…how much spinach?”. She eventually turned to him and said (in Greek, but that won’t help here) “for goodness sakes Nick – as much as it takes – when it looks right – when it feels right!” You see, it was a matter of feel and of being intimate with your product and processes that counted, not the measurement in mls or grams (or ounces).

Some companies and organisations measure innovation against their bottom line, by assessing which innovative ideas that progressed through to the production stage, improved profits. Innovation has also been measured by an increase in productivity (can also affect bottom line), by assessing the introduction of better ways of doing things, by employee satisfaction or by other numerous benchmarks. Consider also the innovation or discovery of fire and the wheel? Could the measure for innovation then be if it makes life better?

Others (me included – sometimes) question why we need to measure innovation at all. There is a case for acknowledging that we have become too fixated on outputs and measurements and benchmarks, and we are in fact stifling innovation and creativity. Numerous studies have been conducted, articles written and talks given, that suggest that some generations have few problem solving skills. Everything is set out and explained, and there is no need to overly engage the brain.

My son who is in year 9 brought home an assessment task last week. It was full of instructions and had a marking table; To get an A you will…to get a B you will… etc. The question was clear cut, the presentation style was written in, and he knows what he has to do to either score well or just pass. What wasn’t written into the assignment was an opportunity to think, create or innovate. Is measuring, benchmarking and over informing stifling and crippling innovation and creativity?  There is a great TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson on this topic – enjoy!

We know we’re not being innovative when we are in a rut and when we continue to do the “same old same old”. We know that we are being innovative when we feel that buzz of excitement, when our adrenaline surges put us in a state of optimum stress, when we are contributing, and we are pushed out of our comfort zone.

Before we go measuring, I believe we need to decide what it is we are trying to quantify or qualify. Are we measuring how innovative we are, or the results of our innovative endeavours?

HunterNet have an Innovation Assessment Tool on their website developed by Lee Bains, a Business Advisors at Enterprise Connect. This tool is free and measures innovation from a business perspective.

Ideation At Work have the Creative Aptitude Test, that assesses and predicts an individual’s ability to think creatively at work. Thinking creatively is a precursor to innovation.

The European Innovation Scoreboard is worth a read, as they “attempt to benchmark…the innovation performance of member states”.

According to research conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, Innovation is considered to be one of the top strategic imperatives of over 90% of organisations globally.

Companies under measure, measure the wrong things, or, in some cases, don’t measure at all, because they are under the mistaken impressions that innovation is somehow different from other business processes and can’t or shouldn’t be measured…The potential cost of this error – in terms of poorly allocated resources, squandered opportunities and bad decision making generally – is substantial.

Beware though – sometimes when we measure we also label. Ever failed a maths test then convinced yourself you were hopeless? Often if we go back and measure again we get a different result.

I leave you with a thought – Steve Jobs, it has been said, killed more patents than he let live. He supposedly had 313 patents to his name. How would you measure the innovative spirit of Steve Jobs?

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