Celebrating the innovators, risk-takers and change agents that are building the products of the future within large organizations.

Innovation Isn’t Just About Technology

By Sheldon Levine

Many budding intrapreneurs may shy away from aspirations to help their company evolve because they may not know a lot about technology or building software. But we have a secret to share: innovation doesn’t always have to be about technology.

Often we think about modern innovation as solely coming from technological advancements, and we forget it can actually come in many forms. The definition of innovation, according to dictionary.com, is  “the introduction of new things or methods.” So while many people focus on the “things” aspect, it’s important to remember that changing a method inside your organization to help do them in a better or more efficient way also makes you an intrapreneur.

Inside almost any company there are a list of processes and tasks that are done a certain way, either because they don’t believe there is a better way or because of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. But if an intrapreneur can see a way to do better do things, then there is a place where innovation can take place.

As an example, the Freakonomics podcast once did an episode where they looked at the debt collection call center industry. They featured the story of a manager whose center was seeing much better results than any other center the company ran. When they asked what her secret was, she said that she had figured out when the best time to call certain people would be based on her understanding of those people, rather than just calling the next number in a pile they were making their way through. She found that moms were most likely to say yes shortly after they had sent the kids to school and not when they were preoccupied with trying to take care of them. She also uncovered that men with office jobs were more likely to say yes on their way to lunch. The company was so pleased with her findings that they taught the rest of the company to think the same way. None of this took the addition or creation of new technology.

Even when people work with technology, innovation does not need to be tied to the building of something new. Sometimes it can be making simple tweaks to what you’re already doing. One famous example of this was the implementation of A/B testing on Barack Obama’s campaign site during the 2008 election. The team who worked on the site wanted to get more people to sign up for their newsletter so they could solicit donations to the campaign. They decided to see if the button labeled “sign up” could be more effective and if the picture above it played a role in sign ups. To determine this, they tested different variations of the button and the picture above it by showing the site differently to people until they were able to clearly see that one specific combination led to more signups than any other. They then started showing that combination to everyone that visited the site and wound up helping the campaign bring in $60 million.

Image from Optimizely blog

Just trying a new format for the button to increase signups was an innovation that greatly helped the Obama Campaign. However, the story of how they did the A/B testing quickly spread among tech and marketing communities and soon everyone wanted to A/B test everything they could to make sure they were always getting optimal results. The method of A/B testing became an innovation that was adopted across entire industries and is used extensively today.

Despite the connotations associated with the word, innovation clearly does not need to be about technology. If you see an opportunity for how something – anything – can be done better at your company, it’s your duty as an intrapreneur to help innovate. Now stop worrying about technology and help your company innovate in any way you know how.