THIS WEEK Quid Novi Spring JamI had a chance to hang out with a bunch of inventors, writers and artists at the Quid Novi Spring of Innovation.  What a cool idea!  We had a chance to talk about what’s currently happening with innovation in northern Colorado and the rest of the world.

It’s clear to me that innovation has a slightly different twist in values-based businesses than it might in others.

Of course, the most visible change is how you pick a direction for and  judge the success of innovation.  Every company and organization has a purpose, of course, so the best investments are those which deliver most directly to that purpose.

If your primary purpose is to make money, then innovation helps you make more money.  “Create a better mousetrap” and all that.

But if your purpose is to do good in the world, or to grow a particular kind of organization, then your criteria will tend to be more complex and harder to measure.  But you know what?  Any innovative organization worth its salt should have a more sophisticated set of objectives than just “make more money.”  Things like:

  • Advance our perception in the marketplace
  • Create greater efficiency
  • Be implementable without TOO much risk (but not too little either, else it’s not really an innovation)

Even a values-based business (or non-profit!) will look at money as one of these criteria.  You need to have long-term sustainability, after all.  It’ll just tend to be lower priority than what’s REALLY important to your business.

The other difference I tend to find, though, is more subtle:  A values-oriented company will tend to be more innovative merely because it feels like it’s more radical, further out on the fringe.  Maybe even weird.

If you’re in the business of selling hamburgers, well, the industry is fairly well defined.  Everyone thinks they know what it’s going to take to succeed.

But if you’re in the business of improving children’s intellectual development and maturity (by selling hamburgers), everyone sees you as being weird.  For you, innovation is a matter of survival of your mission – you’re constantly looking for creative approaches.  It’s not just about squeezing a few more cents out of your pickles or creating a new ad campaign.

I find that values-based companies are more creative, more innovative, by their very nature.  Which makes for a tremendously motivating environment for the right kinds of employees and partners.

By the way, I’ve avoided using “improvement” and “change” as synonyms for innovation.  Not that those are bad concepts, but to me “improvement” generally implies gradual stepwise progress toward a clear goal – not implying more radical thinking.  “Change” is constantly necessary, but is so general that it doesn’t imply the sense of vitality and purpose that I’m focusing on here.

Innovation itself must be a core competency of a true values-based business.