In my experience the definition of the word “innovative” is extremely fluid, depending on the organization.
For some, innovative means a small change to an existing product. To others its something new to the organization but not the market, like an iPad app which simply provides the companies services to mobile customers, even if their competitors already offer the same app for similar products. To still others, innovation is truly game changing, out-of-the-box “pow” ideas which make you uncomfortable.
While all of these forms are “innovation” to some degree, all but the last, and even the last in some cases, pose no danger to the organization. This is what I call the “innovation blind spot” – organizations routinely think up what they consider innovative ideas, but just as routinely steer clear of the most dangerous of those ideas: the ideas which will actively destroy the organization.
There are a lot of excuses for this: the business won’t go for it, we can’t get the budget for that, or let’s not try to put ourselves out of business. Of even more simply, in the middle of the brainstorming sessions, people actually say “Let’s not go there”. But that is the WHOLE point – innovators can and SHOULD actively envision and pursue ideas which are dangerous to the organization. We should and MUST “go there”.
I’m not saying that there is no validity to the innovations outside of the blind spot – there usually is a need for that product or service, otherwise it would likely not have been suggested as an idea. However I’d argue that the innovations in the blind spot are much more important – if you aren’t actively envisioning ideas which will put you out of business, you can bet that your current or upcoming competitors are.
Actively envisioning products and services which will kill your current business give you the opportunity to fend off those threats even before they become them. Just knowing is one thing, you can even go one step further and file a patent application of the concept and at the very least protect yourself from someone else doing just that.
The bottom line: you should and must “think the unthinkable” when looking for true innovation – if the ideas that you are coming up with don’t put your company out of its current business, if the ideas are not making you uncomfortable, then you may not be innovating.