What is Innovation?

We often hear about innovative companies –they’ve hired a Head of Innovation, they’ve completed a Design Sprint, they work in an agile way. It looks good to be “innovative”. It’s how companies can leapfrog the competition, and how you can keep your workforce happy. It’s the answer to your prayers and the only way your company or agency is going to stay relevant.  


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Since we started offering Innovation Services to corporates and government in 2009, we’ve been watching innovation unfold at organisations around New Zealand – and the world. We’re lucky to count some of New Zealand’s biggest companies and government agencies as clients. We’ve worked on projects that have saved taxpayers millions of dollars, and we’ve helped over 300 startups grow from the ground up. What’s become clear is that everyone has a different idea of what innovation is, which makes it pretty hard to decide which way to become more innovative.

What innovation means depends on where you work, so there’s almost no point in trying to define it. However, there is one true thing that holds no matter where you work: 


Innovation needs to provide a solution that delivers value to a user. And then, it needs to lead to impact. Otherwise, it’s just an idea on a whiteboard. If you haven’t got these three things… your great innovation is probably bull. 

So how exactly do you do that? Well, forget about the word “innovation” for starters. Start at the very beginning: What is the value that you are adding to your user’s life? 

According to Fast Company, one of the world’s most innovative companies is Meituan Dianping – a Chinese tech platform that allows the booking and delivery of food, hotel stays and movie tickets. In Fast Company’s words, they are “changing the lives of hundreds of millions of consumers and millions of merchants with highly complex operations disguised as simple transactions—elegant tech to enable real-world experiences.”

If we take the above formula, the solution is to bring together everything people need to live their lives and make it easy to book it all through one super-app. The value that this adds to people’s lives is time-saving (no more using Uber to book a cab, Kitomba to book your haircut, Ezybook to book your dog’s groom: you can do it all within a single app. This is creating a huge impact. The average customer used Meituan 38% more often than the previous year. The company themselves facilitated $33.8b worth of transactions for 350m people in over 2,500 cities. 

Closer to home, we’ve recently finished the 2019 Lightning Lab GovTech programme. Government’s customers are New Zealand citizens – they care deeply about how taxpayer money is spent, and they want to feel involved in decision making for their country. 

A project that has come through Lightning Lab GovTech is the Family Violence Portal. The team’s ambition is simple: make it easier for people to get help. Their solution is a one-stop-shop website for people experiencing family violence. Their value is to make it easier for people to access the information they need. The impact is that people who are already going through an incredibly hard time find it easier to get information, and easier to find the help that they need.

Another project we’ve recently worked on is with Transpower helping them figure out better ways to manage long-term, critical assets. For them, the solution has significantly reduced the lifecycle cost of managing NZ’s electricity grid towers and conductors. The value has been significantly reduced deliverability risk, health and safety matters and grid resilience. The impact of this shift has been good for the bottom line and good for NZ’s electricity supply. 

If we remember that all innovation should have a solution, a value and an impact, we’ll get better ideas which will lead to happier customers and have a positive impact on the world around us. 

Keen to find out how we can help you? 

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