Innovation. Digital Transformation. Disruptive Technology. What do all of these terms have in common? I'll highlight three things. They are all:

  • Fantastic concepts
  • Massively overused terms
  • Frequently misunderstood 

Let's talk about the misunderstandings a bit. With the exception of innovation, the terms put an emphasis on the enabler (i.e. technology) rather than the goal. And I would argue that, in practice, when many talk about innovation, the mental model is too often about the whiz-bang "new shiny object" rather than fundamental value drivers that are meant to:

  • Enrich the customers' experience
  • Raise the value proposition of products/services
  • Elevate quality
  • Enhance positive social impact
  • Improve efficiency & cost structure
  • Shorten time to market
  • Create new revenue streams

But to be clear, I'm not saying we should ignore the power of important advancements in technology: blockchain, AI/ML, big data analytics, IoT, etc. They often inspire us to imagine things that would have been impractical if not impossible not that long ago. But they need to be considered as what they are - simply the enablers.

If your 'digital' efforts are not driving value, here are three things that will help:

  1. Change the headline. Whether it's a hackathon, innovation challenges, or product roadmap themes, make the headline the goal, not the technology. It is perfectly acceptable and often useful to have a hypothesis that some specific enabler could be game-changing; so much so that you want to explore that possibility. But the conversation needs to be clear about why you're doing the exploring.
  2. Check the value. No-constraints thinking & fail fast experimentation are critical to driving breakthrough ideas. However, if you do not already have a defined approach to iteratively validate & fund ideas, you should create one. Make sure the approach has checkpoints that govern the time/money invested (including what is the tipping point between grassroots exploration vs. ideas that require significant organizational resources). In setting the approval criteria, you will need to consider your organization's tolerance for investment risk.
  3. Learn by design. If you are really taking on game-changing ideas, recognize that the path will not be a straight line. Make sure your approach and governance are designed to course-correct based upon what you are learning. That does not mean you don't have a course plotted. Just be ready to detour around the boulder in the road… or even adjust the precise destination when necessary.

And whatever you do, don't get so enamored with the enablers that you take your eye off the goal.