Innovation can be an intimidating goal.  We can’t all be developing iPhones and new molecules that save lives.  Does that mean we can’t be innovative?

I like to differentiate between capital-letter I innovation, ‘Big-I’ innovation and ‘Small-i’ innovation.  Let’s start with Big-I innovation.  This is the kind of product or service that we’d call a blockbuster.  Think for a minute about a blockbuster that’s come out in the last few years.  Might you be thinking iPhone?  Ipad?  Kindle?  Each of those products are exciting and really changed their industries.  Heck, they changed our behavior.

Bet here’s a surprise: PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT is not the best place to put your innovation efforts.

An innovation strategy firm called Doblin did some fascinating research on the cumulative value of innovation investments.  They looked a ten-year window and found that, sure enough the greatest innovation effort was in product development…by far, more than double the next category.  But the cumulative value creation for the company had the LEAST to do with product development.  The efforts that made a difference were things like changing business models—shifting the way you make money, strategic alliances, improving the customer experience and a lot of not so glamorous, back-office kind of innovation.

Which brings me to ‘Small-i’ innovation.

‘Small-i’ innovation is what I call everyday innovation.  I’ll give you an example.  My daughter works at Starbuck’s.  She’s a shift supervisor and soon she’ll be training as an assistant manager.  She wants to manage her own store within two years.  Well, Lizzie got to her current store and realized that if they redesigned the coffee bar it might be faster.  She got support from her boss and she streamlined the process.

This shaved approximately ten seconds off the production of each coffee drink.  You might say, “Big deal”.  And it’s not a big deal.  She’s not going to get on the cover of Fast Company for that.  But how many coffee drinks do you think they do in an hour?  I’ll tell you—an average of 60 to100 transactions an hour, some with multiple coffee drinks.  They’re open 15 hours each day, 365 days a year.  All of a sudden that 10-second time savings starts to look pretty good.  It’s over 4 million seconds!  That’s over 1200 man-hours.  And if you’re managing in the service business you know that’s significant.  Her boss certainly thought so and recognized her for the effort.

So, Starbucks saved some money thanks to my daughter’s everyday innovation.  They also got something else. And this is important:

Innovation will get you more than bottom-line results.

You see Lizzie was very engaged in making the store run more efficiently.  She’s just a little more loyal thanks to the fact that her boss appreciated her extra effort.  And that’s also worth a lot to Starbucks.

Right now HR managers are dismayed at the declining employee engagement scores.  Engagement has to do with commitment to the company’s work, the morale…really the amount of discretionary effort employees are willing to give to a company.  Well, involving your employees and colleagues in innovation is a great way to engage them.  People WANT to solve problems.  They WANT to use their brains.  Trouble is, most of the time leaders feel that they need to come up with the answers.   But I’ve seen it happen time and again—innovation projects engage people.

Plus, if you develop a reputation as an innovative manager, or department, if you’re known in the marketplace as an innovative company you will be able to attract top talent.  Imagine a newly minted engineer coming out of MIT or Stanford.  This talented engineer graduated with honors and can get a job anywhere.  What company might they consider?  I’d guess Google.  Not only are they kicking out all kinds of cool products, but employees have the option, the expectation that they’ll spend part of their time on their own pet projects.  Geez, I want to work for Google.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re recruiting for a mid-level manager or a front-line barista.  You still want the best talent you can get.  Do you want the fresh-faced honor student?  Or do you want the poor shlub who can’t make eye contact?  Of course, you want the best.

So, I encourage you to broaden your ideas about innovation.  Start creating a Climate for Innovation and prepare to be delighted.