Innovation is About People, Not Technology


Innovation is about people, not technology. People invent and manage technology. People invent and manage organizations. People bind the two together to successfully meet the mission.

But hear the word innovation and technology comes to mind, not people. Technology is flashy and fun. It holds promise and adds capability. It changes and we want to keep up with it. It’s what we buy with what budget we have.

So what’s the relationship between people, business, and technology when we innovate?

In Making Innovation Work[1], the authors examine innovation in terms of business model change, and technology model change. Different combinations produce different degrees of innovation. Change one, or change both a little, and innovation will be incremental. Change both a lot and innovation can be radical or disruptive.

Either way, technology enables and accelerates change to the business model. And changes to the business model – to the way an organization is structured and operates to meet its mission – deliver better value to customers.

The authors identify three types of business model change:

  • Value Proposition
  • Supply Chain
  • Target Customer

The first redefines the value you deliver to a customer. The second changes the supply chain that delivers that value. And the third asks you to consider if your target customers have changed since a program’s inception.

They also identify three types of technology change:

  • Product and Service Offerings
  • Process Technologies
  • Enabling Technologies

The first involves changes to a product or service that the government offers customers. The second enables an organization to deliver its products and services faster and cheaper. The third enables an organization to execute strategy faster – not just products and services, but strategy. This means meeting the mission better, faster, and cheaper.

To manage business model and technology model change, think people.

To do something different that gets a better result for your customer, create a space for people to figure out what that something different might be. That space can be created in a number of ways:

  • Lead a conversation about who your customers are, what they value, and what the organization can do to deliver that value to them
  • Develop a high-level innovation strategy that supports the organization’s business objectives
  • Solicit innovation project ideas that accomplish innovation goals and improve how the organization adds value to its clients
  • Use a new technology acquisition or deployment as an opportunity to talk about how the business model might be changed

Creating that space can tap the powerful aspiration people have to make a difference. It can generate learning and give people a positive story to tell. And working in that space will help people reconnect to each other, and to the mission. That’s how you ignite innovation and make it stick.

Create space for people to do something different and protect them from harm, and you might find that those famous for resisting change become as famous for leading it.

[1] Davila, Tony; Epstein, Marc; Shelton, Robert (2012-11-09). Making Innovation Work: How to Manage It, Measure It, and Profit from It, Updated Edition. Pearson Education. Kindle Edition

Lou Kerestesy is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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