Blog Talent Leaders

Innovation 101: Past, Present, and Future

What is ‘innovation’? This buzzword describes a range of experiences, processes, and changes that occur both in and out of the corporate environment.

Today, innovation is used in internal talent development programs to build employees’ problem-solving, creativity, and other essential skills. But how does it all work? And what does the future of work look like with innovation?

To understand innovation today, its role in internal talent development, and where innovation is going, we first need to briefly explore the historical context behind present-day innovation.

The history of innovation

‘Innovation’ as a concept is relatively new — in the 80s, this same concept of ideation, R&D, and creative change was referred to as “diversification.”

The word evokes, most obviously, diversity and the process of expanding or altering a process or idea with creative new elements, such as transforming, inventing, or re-inventing something.

A 1979 Harvard Business Review article on diversification emphasizes the “risky business” of introducing novelty to a business or its product.

In recent years, an HBR article reviewed the history of diversification. It noted that “[t]oday, we talk about venturing, new business development and innovation,” and that we also encourage innovation and creativity in ways that were once unthinkable, pre-digital revolution.

R & D has historically been intertwined with innovation. Over the last few decades, during a time of rapid technological change, innovation has grown to something much more significant than just research and development.

Innovation today

Executives who view innovation as more than R&D succeed in their innovation, diversification, or whatever it may be referred to, more than their counterparts. Business experts break down innovation into three main disciplines: Discovery, Incubation, and Acceleration (DIA).

The Discovery discipline encompasses R&D because it is the ‘invention’ portion of the innovation process. Incubation then takes the innovator to a phase of configuring the best business model and strategy for their invention.

Acceleration is the last phase, which encompasses driving the sales and results of the business plans. This understanding of innovation elevates the purely R&D strategy, and, in turn, produces more innovative success for business leaders.

So, what does innovation look like today?

Today, innovation is an essential part of business success for companies across a broad range of industries, no longer limited to future-driven, new-age tech companies.

Internal talent development fosters innovative thinking, turning a mediocre team into a team of confident, creative thinkers with a thirst for growth and lifelong learning.

There are many different types of talent development programs targeted towards different industries, departments, and positions, all of which can spark game-changing innovation.

Internal innovation can be accomplished through an individual, team, or managerial approach.

Individual employee innovation

Individual talent development is the practice of devoting separate attention to each employee’s unique development. This means taking into careful consideration the employee’s strengths and weaknesses, interests, passions, and career goals in order to craft a tailored development plan.

Individual development often includes strategies like stretch assignments, which ask employees to push past their limits in being assigned tasks that require skills that they lack.

The strategy here is that employees learn by doing, and the employer places trust in the employee and their ability to learn.

This trait of ‘learnability’ is invaluable today and intertwined with innovation, a process reliant on one’s ability to push beyond limits, learn new things, and discover new capabilities.

Moreover, individual development plans also affect the holistic company culture, encouraging employees to collectively adopt a growth mindset for both themselves and the company.

Team innovation

Team talent development is increasingly a strategy that companies are opting for. The team approach opens up possibilities to practice innovation with collaborative challenges or workshops.

The employer can create an action plan tailored to the individual company’s mission, crafting relevant challenge-based learning experiences, or innovative work-integrated learning (iWIL) experiences, to build employees’ innovation skills.

Hands-on collaboration typically challenges employees to create innovative solutions to real-world problems relevant to their workplace and industry.

Through these collaborative opportunities, teams nurture problem-solving skills, entrepreneurial thinking, creativity, and a culture of innovation and lifelong learning.

Innovation is almost inseparable from team talent development because team activities involve productive collaboration, learning, and skill-building.

Managerial innovation

HBR emphasizes talent development for executives and managers, including the development of managers’ coaching skills.

Case studies demonstrate the success of this approach: better coaching and leadership skills, which includes skills like giving constructive feedback more effectively, inspires a ‘coaching’ attitude for the team.

This is to say that employees will follow the positive example made by a manager, be more engaged in the company culture and values, and, as a result, be motivated to innovate.

All three of these talent development routes build skills relevant to an innovation culture in the workplace. The digital workforce has increased the necessity of innovation across diverse industries and workplaces, and as such, talent development programs should continue to incorporate elements of innovation learning.

The future of innovation: where are we headed?

More companies than ever are investing in innovation and R&D in order to improve continuously. More companies invest in internal talent development for their employees to develop innovation skills and a growth mindset.

Innovative talent development can be approached with the development of individual employees, development of the collaborative team, development of leadership, or a combination of these development programs.

As skills gaps are an increasing problem, companies must make efforts within their organization to combat skills gaps.

For the success of their organization, their industry, and the general job market, employers can make a serious difference by investing in internal talent development.

Rather than relying on external hires, employers can improve their situation by upskilling their current employees and fostering a culture of continuous learning, growth, and innovation.