Examples of innovation are everywhere. We don’t have to look far to find countless books and articles highlighting the companies that have been able to successfully achieve it. The problem comes when we try to copy those companies and have little success.

Copying what other organizations do feels unnatural and often does not work in our complex organizational structures. That does not mean that we cannot learn from the success of others. Instead we should take a step back and look at the reasons why these strategies work instead of the strategies themselves.

By doing so, we may find some sort of framework we can apply to our unique situation that will allow us to achieve the desired results. Similar to many complex problems we face there may be an equation. That way we can plug in the variables and calculate the outcome. But what would an innovation equation look like and how accurate would it be?


To start off let’s look at the variables required to create successful innovation. By looking at the success of others there are a few that stick out.

Variable 1: Resources: Every innovation requires resources and it is the organization’s responsibility to provide them. There are three major categories of resources that are required in most innovations:

  • Money: The capital to purchase products and/or services necessary to complete the innovation. The money can be used to purchase everything from test products to energy drinks for those long days.
  • Tools: The tools required vary depending on the innovation. Some may have to be purchased (see monetary resources) and others may have to be made available. If innovators do not have the necessary tools to gather the required data or build the innovation, it is not likely to happen.
  • Innovation Time: It takes time to innovate and not every employee wants to live at the office. Innovation Time is well documented in companies like 3M and Google but even without formal programs it has been at the core of innovation. Give employees the freedom to work on innovative projects and you will be more likely to succeed in your innovation efforts.

Variable 2: Knowledge: Solving organizational problems and creating innovative solutions require a certain set of knowledge. Here are the two categories that employees must have to innovate:

  • Skills: It typically takes specific skill sets to create a solution. Employees may already have the necessary skills or they may need to acquire them. If they have the skills that is great but if they don’t, the organization needs to either provide them or help them acquire them.
  • Understanding: In most organizations, the skills required to innovate are rarely the problem. Instead it is the information required to understand the challenges facing the organization. Leaders must create a culture of transparency and do their best to communicate organizational challenges to all employees.

Variable 3: Motivation: Employees have to want to innovate and that is where motivation comes in. Here are the two primary types:

  • Internal: Some employees are just motivated. It could be because of organizational values or just pure luck. Leadership also plays a big role in employee motivation. If employees are self-motivated, the best thing you can do is not do things to demotivate them.
  • External: People are externally motivated by all kinds of things. It could be recognition, money, advancement opportunities or even just a simple thank you. Find what motivates your employees and implement a reward system accordingly.

Variable 4: Time: Perhaps the most critical variable in innovation but also one that we have no control over. Innovation takes time and while you can do things to allow employees to work faster, you cannot speed up the clock.

Here It Goes…

Innovation Equation

Innovation = (Knowledge + Resources) * Motivation / Time

Reality Check

Simplifying innovation down to an equation may be wishful thinking but that does not mean that we cannot learn something from it. All of the variables above are required to become innovative and by looking at them in this way you may be able to identify where you need to focus.  Here are some of the common scenarios organizations face:

  • Limited Knowledge: Many organizations have adequate resources but do not have the necessary knowledge to innovate. If you are looking for specific skill sets, you can invest in training or hiring specific talent. If employees do not understand the problems you can look at promoting transparency or presenting innovation challenges to employees.
  • Limited Resources: Resources are fairly straightforward but that does not mean it is always easy. If you have knowledge but no resources, you will have to make adjustments to get them the resources that they need. Moving things around and putting low priority projects on the backburner can be a way to accomplish this.
  • Limited Motivation: Motivation is less tangible than knowledge and resources. If you find that your employees are not motivated to innovate you can try implementing a rewards program or work with leadership to make improvements to your organizational culture.

Taking this holistic approach to innovation may be eye opening and beneficial. You can learn from what other people have done but you do not have to copy them to see results. Innovation is unique to every organization and treating it as such will put you in the best possible position for success.