Innovation is the core activity of human evolution to change the environment, reach high performance, and make collective progress.

Nowadays, with rapid changes and fierce competition, innovation is no longer a “nice to have,” but a “must have” competency for long-term business success. The digital era upon us is the age of innovation. Highly innovative digital organizations, no matter how large or small, are dynamic and flexible, and they focus on solving problems creatively and unleashing business potential relentlessly. Innovation is not always equal to the latest gadget or shining technology only; it’s about people, culture, partnership, and manner, to build a highly creative working environment and develop differentiated innovation competencies. Here are five factors to drive digital innovation.


Innovation is all about figuring out a better way to do things, or create satisfying products or services. Innovation is the process which combines restless dissatisfaction with the current state coupled with the excitement of leading individuals or teams to discover alternative solutions that tailor business needs and produce great results.

Most people consciously or subconsciously protect their status quo and get used to conventional thinking. But in a digital society with an open culture and the increasing pace of changes, conventional thinking sometimes has a negative connotation about sticking to outdated concepts, traditions, cultures or the old ways to do things and perform mediocre result. It’s like walking on the treadmill, even taking steps, but getting stressed out without moving forward and wondering what’s going on.

With dissatisfaction, people can diagnose the root cause of problems they face, broaden the multidimensional thoughts and connect wider dots to trigger creativity. There is a full cycle of emotions behind innovation. Being innovative is a state of mind; it’s about thinking differently, acting differently, solving problems differently, delivering results differently, and adding value differently.


“Things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” – Albert Einstein

Generally speaking, innovation is to simplify things. There are always constraints; simplicity implies to build as little as possible. More specifically, the ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary for figuring out a premium solution.

Innovation is a process which could be managed. However, innovation processes often fall into one of two camps: The first one is so detailed and specific such that the processes lack of flexibility for adapting to changes and the compliance with the process is impractical; the other one is too high level and abstracted from the issues at hand, it does not provide practical guidance or lack of formal processes to implement the idea step-by-step.

To follow the simplicity principle, effective innovation requires a well-managed process as part of a holistic system and a strategic alignment, encompassing many key business aspects such as leadership, strategy, communication, culture, or technology, etc, into a systematic approach.

Some tough problems get solved intuitively and elegantly, but behind the scenes, there is a lot of hard effort or complexity for someone to implement it. During the whole innovation process, make sure that all staff are aware of the planning, processes, schedules, or pitfalls, and they are ready for taking responsibility for building innovation competency.


Innovation blossom comes with diversity. Diversification is an excellent engine for creativity, although it doesn’t mean that is the only success factor to drive innovation.

Diversification and differentiation make the business stand out by allowing the organization to fix innovation bottlenecks and develop unique business competencies. Diversity is a facilitator for merging significant building blocks of emerging and existing ideas and concepts or blending them to create something new.

All ambitious businesses strive to unlock their innovation performance and unleash the full digital potential by enforcing diversification and collaboration. The emergent digital technologies and practices make it possible to expand the talent pool, build highly innovative teams with coherent diversification such as cognitive differences, varying experiences, and complementary skill sets.

It’s also important to define the updated competency model, assess the talent’s overall capabilities to solve problems, and strike the right balance of cognitive difference, learning plasticity, characters, skills, experiences, personalities, and energy within the teams.

Many forward-thinking companies across industrial sectors have also broken out of the static industry box, and treat customers, partners and other industrial ecosystem participants as active agents for brainstorming new ideas and coming up with alternative business solutions.


Innovation follows fundamental principles or basic rules, which are adapted depending on the company’s strategy, competency, and circumstances. To scale up innovation practices and amplify its effect, organizations need to think about ways with dynamic planning to broaden their ecosystem perspective and become highly flexible and resilient.

The real challenge is to understand where and how you can and should innovate to get the biggest effect and scale up the best innovation practices across the digital ecosystem effortlessly. Organizations need to develop tailored innovation practices by leveraging effective tools or methodologies and using them wisely with the expertise to really add value.

It’s also important to fine-tune many critical business factors, including “hard” factors such as policy, process, performance, and “soft” factors such as culture, leadership, communication, etc., in order to shape innovation capacity of the business.

The highly innovative companies can connect the key resources or assets in their vicinity and context to the information and resource-rich hub or clusters across the business ecosystem for sowing innovation seeds, growing into fruitful plants and reaping the business benefits.


Leadership is one of the critical innovation management pillars. Innovative leaders view the whole picture and apply creativity in areas not tried. Digital leaders who are open-minded, competent, curious, courageous, adaptive, collaborative, and willing to listen to employees are more likely to be the exemplars as successful innovation leaders.

Creative leadership is essentially anchored on the leader’s overall multifaceted resourcefulness. It requires the strength to collect feedback and review recommendations to problem-solving or decision-making. In practice, many leaders say that they are ok with the new way to do things but exhibit the contrary.

Leadership exemplification is important to encourage a culture of innovation for leading people to grow beyond existing levels of company performance and capability. Innovative leaders are not only self-motivated but also motivate teams to think out-of-the-box, develop innovation capacity, and discover the new path of doing innovation.

Innovation is the core activity of human evolution to change the environment for reaching high performance and making collective progress. There’s no “one size fits all” solution to develop a creative working environment and build differentiated innovation competency. It is always important to gain an in-depth understanding of crucial innovation ingredients and factors to drive the business reaching the next level of the growth cycle and achieve the long-term business prosperity.

About the author

Pearl Zhu is an innovative “Corporate Global Executive” with more than twenty-one years of technical and business working experience in strategic planning, Information Technology, software development, e-commerce and international trading, etc. She holds a master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Southern California, and she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15+ years. She is the author of “Digital Master” book series and the “Future of CIO blog.

Featured image via Pexels.