What Is Innovation?

23 August 2017

When typing ‘what is innovation?’ into google, the results produce a definition.



1. the action or process of innovating.

"Innovation is crucial to the continuing success of any organisation."

So now we know.

Innovating is said to be “making changes in something established”. It is something new and, according to Google (the God of all knowledge), essential to any business that wants to survive in the current tough environment. But where does that really leave us? It is a buzzword that we are still struggling to entirely comprehend, but if we don’t do it and do it fast, then we can be pretty certain our organisation is not going to cut it.

When companies are faced with an increased threat from competition due to market forces, and the abundance of new technology, it is no surprise they are seeking a route to do things differently. But, what form should this take and if we all keep overusing this buzzword, how can we actually make such mythical innovation happen, and, more importantly, how can we set a course of action within our business?

Innovation is defined as 'making changes in something established'

Lots of companies turn to our network of expert keynote speakers to help them work out these big questions. As innovation is such a meaty topic, we asked a selection of different speakers to tell us what it actually means to them.

Simon Duffy. the founder of Men’s Skin care range, Bulldog, commented:

“The surprising thing about innovation in big companies today is that although we know that up to 90% of new product launches will fail, so many people continue to approach the innovation process in the same traditional ways. What’s needed as an antidote to the traditional stage-and-gate processes is a more creative approach to problem-solving. The core competence of consumers is to consume, not to create, so start with an idea rather than a series of focus groups. Think bigger and search for the unexpected.”

So, to Simon, innovation is striving for the unpredictable and shaking up the way we have always done things. Doing things differently is how Bulldog cut through the noise. The combination of their slick packaging and focus on natural ingredients meant they stood out in the men’s healthcare world.

Founder of Bulldog - Simon Duffy

Dr Max McKeown, visionary, business guru and influential presenter, has spent over two decades consulting for Pfizer, Topshop and Sony, amongst many other major global brands, so he has a pretty good idea of what it takes to be ‘innovative’. Dr Max said:

“There doesn't have to be confusion about what innovation is - or what it does. Where there is confusion is mainly in the way that people try to complicate instead of enlighten.” So, to Dr Max, innovation is about keeping things simple. He has also coined the term as “new ideas made useful”. Believing that it can change anything, Dr Max asserts that we need to understand and get better at it because it is “vital to our shared future.”

Visionary, business guru and influential presenter - Dr Max McKeown

Hamish Taylor, a change and turnaround expert, who was responsible for flat beds on BA flights and the success of the Eurostar, defines innovation as “reverse football - (when there are 22 referees for every player!)”.

He elaborates that “for me, innovation and change is a leadership challenge rather than a creativity challenge. The key to success, in my experience, is not idea generation, but the ability to take the team or organisation with you on a journey that takes them away from established products and practices with which they are both familiar and for which they have been rewarded in the past.”

Hamish has put together a checklist to ensure the entire team embraces this new world, it requires:-

  • A clear statement of the desired customer outcome from the innovation on which the team can focus their activity (the “customer promise”).
  • An ambition that enables the team to recognise from the outset that this innovation will require a change in behaviour.
  • New insights by changing in the way we look at both internal and external customers for our innovation (soft insights, expectations etc).
  • Stimulus from outside the current industry/discipline - too much expertise can stifle innovation as we become experts at identifying problems rather than opportunities.
  • Tools to make it easy for the team to deliver. Communication is not enough – you need to help the team to take the first steps into this new world

Change and turnaround expert - Hamish Taylor

For Hamish, innovation is firmly rooted in change and actioning a clear plan.

Similarly, for former MD of Google Dan Cobley, he believes that innovation isn't only about putting a plan into action, but it is entirely necessary for any company to prosper. Dan says "in today's fast moving, technology-driven world, every company has to innovate just to survive. Improving 3, 5 or 10% year on year is what is required just to stand still relative to your competition. This incremental innovation is table stakes.

To really get ahead, you need to seek to innovate 10x - that is; create solutions that are an order of magnitude better than what your customer has experienced before. This may sound impossible, but with advances in technology many companies are finding ways to do things instantly that used to take a week; to take error rates from 1% to sub 0.1% or to deliver free what used to be charged for.  These are the kind of advances that disrupt markets and propel innovators to sustainable success.

The ability to innovate 10x requires a different approach and a different mindset, but learning from the likes of Google and Netflix, it is available to anyone. It will be a defining characteristic of tomorrow's winners."

Former MD of Google - Dan Cobley

Now we know what the experts think, how does that fit in with you? Director, Tim Gold shared with us a few of his opinions on the topic and the thought process that our accounts team go through when they receive an ‘innovation brief’ for a speaker or an event.

Tim says: “there are a few different types of innovation, there is the organisational psychology element of innovation, and in my opinion, this is mindset innovation. When clients ask us for a speaker on this specifically, it tends to relate to internal dynamics e.g. employee engagement, leadership initiatives and change management and speeches relating to this can be tailored around changing or adjusting such internal processes.”

He goes on to say that, “however, often we also get requests for innovation speakers to address other key challenges which are more externally focussed, but critically the client would still initially request an ‘innovation’ speaker. These could take the form of new product development, customer relationship strategies, technological innovation and marketing and communications – to name a few.”

So, when we are booking speakers we tend to do some digging to see whether our clients want a landscape overview or a sector perspective. This really helps us do our job well and book the perfect speaker which will deliver for a client’s event. If you are tasked with the almighty challenge of finding an ‘innovation’ speaker, then don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call us. Every brief is different and we’re always happy to chat about yours.

To book, or for more info. on any of our speakers, call us on +44 (0) 20 7607 7070 or email us at  info@speakerscorner.co.uk .

Speakers Corner Newsletter

* indicates required

Have an enquiry?

Send us a message online and we'll respond within the hour during business hours. Alternatively, please call us our friendly team of experts on +44 (0) 20 7607 7070.

Speakers Corner (London) Ltd,
Ground and Lower Ground Floor,
5-6 Mallow Street,