Taking a fresh look at innovation
Have you seen one of these cards? Take a look at the three terms across the top: our key values of Service Excellence, Innovation and Stewardship.
In 2018, I’m planning to use this space to expand on what they mean for IPF, but I hope you won’t just take my word for it. Let’s have a conversation – and let’s start with the value that’s most overused and misunderstood, and often hardest to practice effectively: innovation.
What does innovation even mean? Many people think of innovation as simply “doing new stuff” – inventing new tools or practices that promise to make our work better, faster and easier. It has something to do with technology, right? We know it’s supposed to be good but we can’t always put our finger on why – and there’s always a lingering worry that we’ll lose something important when we pursue newness for its own sake.
But a more precise definition of innovation might help us out. Wikipedia, in a collection of definitions, talks about innovation as “the application of better solutions,” “the practical implementation of an invention to make a meaningful impact,” and “assimilation and exploitation of a value-added novelty.” In other words, innovation isn’t primarily about inventing new technologies or tactics. It’s taking the best new ideas and applying them, implementing them for an improved result and taking advantage of the value gained from new capabilities. Invention is the promise of something better; innovation is the fulfillment.
That means we’re only doing innovation at the point where we see value created by changes. If we invent or purchase a new and improved snow shovel and distribute it to our Custodial Services employees, that’s not innovation yet. If an employee then clears snow from three buildings in the time it used to take her to shovel just one – that’s innovation.
Last week, IPF began the main phase of our mobile device roll-out, issuing iOS units to groups in Capital Project Accounting, Safety, and a few others and training them in some of the key tools and capabilities available through this technology. We’ll continue issuing devices and offering training throughout the year, wrapping up the initial pass in August or September.
Purchasing a device, putting it in your hand and training you on how to use it are important steps that make innovation possible. But the true innovation – the competitive value to IPF, the improvement to our service, the step towards the leading edge – happens when you exploit that tool to make your work more effective and efficient. Perhaps that means checking a document in the field to avoid a trip back to the office. Perhaps it means putting in a work request while you’re still on site, or reviewing infrastructure diagrams and floor plans on the go. Perhaps it means something no one else has thought of yet.
Maybe you see where I’m going with this. Innovation doesn’t happen because leadership says it should. Innovation happens when we actually make good use of new tools and do our work in new ways. It takes all of us pulling together to make space for it, support it and encourage it. It takes all of us to embrace our responsibility to do it.
We will face many opportunities for innovation over the next few months. I hope you’ll keep your eyes open for even more ways to take advantage – and hold me accountable for doing the same.
All the best,
P.S. As today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I also want to mention the endowed scholarship offered in his name and memory to "Michigan State University students who are, through their stewardship, becoming society’s leaders by actively engaging in building inclusive communities in ways that fight injustice and promote equality for all on every possible level." Contributions to the scholarship fund are tax deductible.
P.P.S. What does innovation mean for your work? Got any great examples that have slipped under the radar? Let me know at TheDetails@ipf.msu.edu.