People often ask us how to measure the results of an innovation program. And in truth, the value of these programs is often hard to determine, particularly when we treat innovation as the goal, rather than (correctly!) viewing innovation as a means to an end. And so we end up counting artifacts (i.e. publications, attendees, participants, etc) rather than measuring the actual output of the program (i.e. what problems did we solve, what value did we create, what improvements did we make, etc).

Now, it’s hard to measure something if you don’t know what it is. That’s why I recommend we look to ITK’s definition of innovation (“novelty with impact”) before creating our measurement plans. That three-word definition points us towards the thing we should be monitoring and measuring – the output of our innovation efforts. It centers our discussion on WHY we do innovation in the first place, because it poses the question “What impact are we trying to have?

Once we know what impact we’re trying to have, it’s pretty obvious what we should measure. If our innovation is “a new technology that saves lives, then obviously the thing we should measure is the number of lives we’ve saved. If the innovation is “a new process that saves time,” the thing to measure is how much time we saved. If we’re looking across a portfolio of innovation projects, adding up all those measurable impacts will give us a good sense of the portfolio’s success or failure.

In contrast, if our goal is just to “be innovative” then we’ll probably have a hard time figuring out what to measure.

Defining innovation as “novelty with impact” also helps us avoid the superficial version of innovation that overemphasizes newness and underplays impact. It points out that innovation without impact is not innovation, it’s just novelty. When we keep that in mind, we’re more likely to get the results we hoped for.

photo credit: Clément Bucco-Lechat