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A few days ago, I facilitated a board strategy workshop. The word “innovation” kept cropping up during discussions on the strategic pillars. Some participants felt that innovation should be a standalone strategic pillar while the majority felt that it should be a sub-component of the Information and Communication Technology Pillar. They were however in agreement that innovation is all about technology. After listening to all the views, I requested participants to give their own views about the nature and scope of innovation and unsurprisingly, very few gave definitions and examples outside of technology.

The above viewpoint is common amongst scholars, researchers, entrepreneurs, managers and leaders amongst others since technological advancements have been some of the most visible and transformative innovations in recent history. Technology have revolutionized communication, travel, work, and life over the past 100 years or thereabouts. In addition, technology is often easier to quantify and measure than other forms of innovation. It is relatively straightforward to point to a new gadget or software program and recognize its innovative features. This tangibility makes it a natural focal point for discussions about innovation.

Domination and visibility of technological innovation overshadows the scope of innovation namely “new ideas, processes, methods, products, services and business models. It therefore obscures other forms of innovation such as social, product, process, organizational and policy innovation. Product innovation refers to the creation of new products or significant improvements to existing ones thereby enhancing features, functionality, design, performance, or user experience. Process innovation on the other hand involves optimizing or redesigning internal processes within organizations to increase efficiency, reduce costs, improve quality, or enhance flexibility. In this regard, an organization innovates if it introduces a new product or service or improves its customer on-boarding process.

Social innovation focuses on addressing social, environmental, and community challenges through novel solutions. It involves mobilizing resources, fostering collaboration, and implementing initiatives that promote positive social change, sustainability, inclusivity, and equitable development. In this regard, an organization that initiates a community social responsibility program or makes changes to an existing one on the basis of stakeholder feedback innovates.

Organizational innovation involves implementing new management practices, organizational structures, or cultural norms within an organization. It is aimed at fostering creativity, agility, and adaptability and may include initiatives such as promotion of a culture of experimentation, review of organizational structure, introduction of employee engagement and welfare programs amongst others. Policy innovation on the other hand involves development and implementation of new policies or the significant revision of existing policies to address emerging challenges, capitalize on opportunities, or achieve specific goals In this regard, an organization that introduces a new flexi-working hours, diversity and inclusivity or environmental protection policies should consider itself to have been innovative.

It is however worth noting that different types of innovations may overlap and could involve or not involve technology. For example, a product innovation may result in introduction of a new or review of an existing process thereby impacting process innovation. It could also result in enhancement of existing technology or introduction of new technology thereby impacting technological innovation. Product innovation may however not have an impact on either process of technology especially if it involves a physical product in a retail set-up such as where a retailer in animal feeds specializing in dairy products introduces poultry products.

Dr. Weru Mwangi is the CEO & Lead Consultant at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in training & consultancy in Finance, Governance, Strategy, Risk Management and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@umslgroup.com  

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