Over the weekend, I was talking to a good friend who has a VERY IMPORTANT job. Big startup, lots of awards – you know the kind. We caught each other up with the goings-on at our respective workplaces. When I shared I was writing about companies having a common innovation language, she responded with “A what?” and a blank look. I realized if this topic was ambiguous even to my friend with the VERY IMPORTANT job, then this was a subject that needed addressing.

The value gained from having a Common Innovation Language (CIL) is because:

  1. You have one
  2. It’s common
  3. It’s for innovation
  4. It’s a language

 Let’s dig deeper:

 HavingHaving a common innovation language means that there is a defined, thought-out framework for how people work and innovate. This provides an overarching structure, what’s in and what’s out. There are a lot of options (method, terms, etc.) when it comes to innovating. If you specifically want people to use one innovation methodology over another, having a CIL reflects that wish. ‘Having’ also reflects on the present – something that is current and updated as needed, therefore making it useful (as opposed to something drafted five years ago with no connection to present company practices).

 Common: A common language is common for two reasons: Everyone shares the same language, and it’s prevalent amongst employees. This helps people work together more efficiently and provides clarity regarding what’s being asked of them. I.e. there are different types of prototypes. Imagine you asked for one and it took 3 months to develop, when you had in mind a simple sketch. Ouch. Or if you say MVP and someone is thinking about last night’s baseball game. Well – you get the picture. So if you have an innovation language in your company, but it’s not common, you’re missing out on all it can deliver. There’s even an emotional aspect – no one likes to be left out of a conversation or think there’s a secret language! A CIL contributes to feelings of camaraderie when working on a shared goal. So if you really expect everyone to innovate, make sure they know the jargon to do so.

Innovation: Companies have common languages, but is innovation one of them? The vast terminologies associated with innovation have made it into a sub-language of its very own. Although there is crossover and borrowing from other fields, they are used differently in the context of innovation (think Agile, Lean, Sprint, etc.). A CIL lets people align around the specific methods, processes, deliverables, roles, and responsibilities that you want people to use.

 Language: People need to have a way to communicate, period. It’s all good to want innovation in your company, but folks need something more than “that thing that we do”. A CIL provides ease of working together and speeds things up. When a term is used, everyone knows what they need to get on, without having to constantly explain the why, what, and how.

Your CIL can keep expanding over time. How you choose to share it can be through ‘word of the day’, during onboarding, or even have a glossary in your knowledge management system. (I’d love to hear your ideas!) The bottom line, the importance of having a CIL is that it shows respect for both the intricate innovation initiatives in your company and the people who make it happen.