Throughout my career as an engineer, particularly when bid-managing multimillion-dollar design and construction contracts, innovation was always something clients wanted, but rarely accepted, and was somewhat feared by service providers, as both struggled to align on what innovation really meant. Clients often wanted risk free, low cost innovation - "we want innovative solutions but don't want to be bleeding edge" was often the catch-cry. At the same time highly left-brain, risk averse problem solvers found it difficult to get outside of their highly structured boxes to generated truly different ideas.
Part of the problem was a lack of understanding of what innovation meant in the client's context, and why it was being sought. Was it for cost reduction, greater efficiency, improved usability, corporate image, or something else entirely? Who would benefit from the innovation and why? What would be the impacts or consequences, and how would change be managed?
In fact, if these questions couldn't be answered then there was actually another issue - what was the actual problem, the real problem, that needed to be solved. Perhaps solving the wrong problem was one of the reasons leading edge quickly became bleeding edge...
Leading global design consultancy, IDEO, defines innovation as "the ability to generate and execute new ideas - incrementally, evolutionary or revolutionary - and it starts with creativity."
Going further, IDEO defines creativity as "the ability to look past the obvious - to transcend traditional ways of seeing the world to create something new."
So the good news is innovation can be incremental or evolutionary. Whether physical design, process design, systems design or any other problem that needs to be solved, innovative solutions can be prototyped, tested, improved incrementally, and in a low cost manner, to ensure risk is minimised rather than adopting a big bang, all-in approach.
And the even better news, particularly for left-brained thinkers who don't believe they can be "creative types", is that we can apply an iterative process that not only allows us to become more creative and innovative, but ensures we're solving the right problem and reducing the implementation risk.
That process is Design Thinking.
If you lead people, you're a problem solver.
If you are in sales, you're a problem solver.
In fact there are very few roles where an ability to solve problems is not essential.
Your ability to lead, sell and solve creatively will be your differentiator in this ever-changing world.