What does it take to keep innovation going in today’s turbulent times? One strong possibility is a compelling vision that transforms employees, partners and customers into evangelists for your cause.

It’s hard to keep innovation programs going these days. All it takes is a CEO change, an innovation champion leaving the company or a few key sponsors being forced into early”retirement,” or a major change in your company’s competitive space – and innovation can easily stall.

Clearly, for innovation to be sustainable, a significant number of employees need to be trained to support it. That way, if a key person leaves the company, others remain behind to help keep moving the ball forward.

But even if a sizeable number of people are trained in innovation practices and then are dispersed throughout the organization, they still need time to apply what they’ve learned. That becomes hard if their plates are over-filled with existing projects. In addition, if the organization’s culture and compensation schemes are not aligned with its new-found focus on innovation, ideas will suffer and innovation will more than likely stall.

It may turn out that successful innovation initiatives are something like assembling a world champion sports team. In this example, excellent coaching, players and a will to win are critical to success. But it seems to also require a certain special “something” that is incredibly elusive and hard to keep going from one season to the next. In most sports around the world, it’s unusual for any single team to dominate the league for more than a few years in a row.

That special something may very well be a compelling vision.

As Carmine Gallo points out in his new book, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, there are amazing parallels between U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s inspiring vision of sending a man to the moon in the 1960s and the kind of energy and passion that Apple wunderkind Steve Jobs has managed to enflame at the legendary company he heads. “Both men gave stirring speeches that positioned the fulfillment of their veisions as winning a battle between tyranny and freedom,” Gallo explains.

Back in 1983, just before the public launch of the Macintosh, Jobs rallied the Apple troops around a compelling vision of the success of the Mac as a race between the tyranny of the IBM-dominated world of PCs of the day and the freedom, the “democratization of technology” that the Mac represented. Also, if you recall, when the Mac was launched, the commercial used to announce it to the world painted an Orwellian vision of tyranny and oppression (the bland, Communist-like orthodoxy of the PC) that would be shattered by the revolutionary Macintosh.

In short, Jobs created an army of evangelists among Apple’s employees, third-party software developers who created programs for the Mac, and the public, who immediately identified with the creative possibilities of Apple’s Brave New Computer.

“Nobody is inspired by a computer. Steve Jobs created fans by painting a vision of what computers could do. He turned fans into evangelists by painting a vision of Apple as the last company that could protect the masses from IBM’s ‘domination.’ Vision inspires evangelists, and evangelists are key players in turning ideas into successful innovations,” Gallo explains.

Is a compelling vision for innovation the only way to sustain it, despite the shifting sands of corporate, competitive, regulatory and economic environments? What ELSE is effective in helping organizations to sustain innovation? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments area below.