Hiring motivational speakers, performers and artists to inspire corporate cube-dwellers is a time-honored tradition at big companies. Researchers admit that tracking the ROI on such ventures is tricky. Nevertheless, Barry Jaruzelski, a senior partner at Booz & Co, who conducts the firm’s annual Global Innovation Study, thinks the anecdotal evidence is strong: “Unconventional interactions can lower the barrier for people to posit novel things,” he says. Enterprises practice the Art of Innovation by taking such measures to stimulate innovative thinking in the context of their businesses. However, what are the characteristics that best define the returns on the application of such techniques — or the Return on Innovation? Look at it as yet another definition for ROI following Return on Information and Return on Infrastructure!

While on vacation, I briefly discussed innovation with my college-going niece, Kavita. She was simply fascinated by the glasses-free, portable 3D display technology discussed by Katherine Bourzac in the MIT Technology Review. Kavita just might represent the next generation of innovators. Because she specializes in commerce, her view of innovation isn’t tainted by the urge to have a scientific marvel be a defining characteristic.

In this post on Innovation defined by 3D Mobile Technology from HP Labs, I explain how our dialog evolved to this definition of Innovation:

Innovation is creativity applied with passion to disrupt our quality of life for the better

To determine the Return on Innovation, it would help to ensure that the solution being considered is innovative in the first place. My discussion with Kavita yielded questions like those listed below which could help us take first steps towards establishing a formula to compute this value:

1. Is there a creative aspect to the solution?

2. How has the quality of our lives been impacted?

3. What is the extent to which the status quo has been disrupted?

4. Does the enterprise garner business benefits because of the innovative aspects of this solution?

5. What are the chances that these innovative aspects are neutralized by competition?

Now, let’s apply these questions to something Kavita found to be innovative by her own definition, the new Holographic 3D for mobile technology from HP Labs. A team of scientists, led by HP’s David Fattal, have created a new kind of 3D display for small screens that is both glasses-free and has a very wide viewing angle.

1. There is definitely a creative aspect and the ability to watch an image in 3D without having to wear an extra pair of glasses.

2. This certainly improves my quality of life.

3. Easy access to such displays can make this a disruptive phenomenon.

Three of five isn’t bad. (The actual business benefits and the probability of neutralization remain to be seen.)

How about you? What techniques do you apply for innovation within your enterprise? What other questions would you ask to compute the Return on Innovation? Do you practice the Art of Innovation? What would your formula for innovation be? Please let me know.

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