Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the first loaf-at-a-time bread slicing machine and sliced bread was first sold commercially in 1928. Humans have been making bread for at least 10,000 years, maybe even 30,000, so the invention of commercially available sliced bread is exceptionally recent. Given the now ubiquitous nature of it, one can easily argue it as a huge and recent innovation.
But is slicing bread innovative anymore? I can’t imagine anyone saying it is.
In my post on the difference between creativity and innovation, I suggest that innovation is about changing an accepted way of doing something in a given domain, whereas creativity is more about a single solution. It is an original idea that does not necessarily mean to change an accepted practice.
The real problem is accepted ways of doing things and how this idea can often provide us a system of actions to rely on. Innovation occurs with the intention of rewriting this accepted way of doing with a new accepted way of doing. Innovation is disposable: you do something once and its innovative, you do it twice and now its just standard practice.
Creativity is all about using launch-pads, borrowing ideas, mixing ideas. The accepted way of doing something is often one of the best starting points, but it is not necessarily the finishing point.
I saw a nice article from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) here that describes a similar problem. Using examples of once-innovative companies such as Microsoft, Polaroid or Nokia, they explain the importance of what is called an Innovation Strategy.
The real value of this article is the idea of an Innovation System. HBR defines this as: “a coherent set of interdependent processes and structures that dictates how the company searches for novel problems and solutions, synthesizes ideas into a business concept and product designs…”
This is where the real challenge lies. If that definition sounded complicated, it is quite fitting, because – as many companies are proving – it can be difficult. This why I suggest creating an environment that promotes creativity as the first and most fundamental step to build this.
Feature image courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski.