Is technology stealing the limelight of innovation? Obviously, a lot of innovation is about technology, and technology can drive innovation in many ways. But beware the trap: sometimes organizations equate I = T and miss out on the huge opportunities of non-tech innovation.

Meet John, the owner of a global hotel chain in Singapore. John traveled a lot and used his travels to stay at competitors’ hotels to learn about their services, facilities, food and more.

On one of his trips, John came back to one of Bangkok’s famous hotels, about a year after his first visit. As he approached the front desk he was amazed as the receptionist smiled at him and said “Welcome back, sir. It’s so nice to see you again.”

Impressed as he was, John kept thinking about this welcome. “How did she know I was here before?” he wondered. “There is no way she remembered me, so what is it?” John came to the conclusion that the hotel must have some kind of facial recognition software that informed the receptionist whenever a past guest was returning to the hotel. Regardless of the technology behind it – John felt he definitely wanted to create the same experience for his returning guests.

Back at his office, John consulted with his management team and several specialists. After significant research and deliberation, they recommended installing cameras in each hotel and using a designated software that will alert the receptionist whenever a returning customer is checking in. The cost for the system was several millions of dollars!! Excited as he was about the heartwarming effect of the personal approach, John had to abandon the idea. It was just too much money. He put it behind him, but from time to time wondered if that hotel in Bangkok actually spent that much money on such a system.

The following year he revisited the same Bangkok hotel, and when he approached the receptionist he was again greeted warmly as a returning customer. “I must know,” he said to the receptionist, “I have indeed stayed in this beautiful hotel before, but you seem to know that without even entering my name into the computer… How do you do that?” The receptionist smiled at him warmly and explained:

“It’s actually very simple. We have agreements with all the taxi companies that service the airport. Whenever they drive a guest to our hotel they engage in conversation and ask, among other things, whether this is their first visit to the hotel. If it is the first visit the driver will put the suitcase on the guest’s left-hand side, and if it is a returning customer on the right. We pay the taxi companies $1 per customer, so everybody wins.”

We are willing to bet John never saw that one coming.

John is not the first to assume the tech route was taken. Technology is changing and shaping our lives at a radical speed. It seems that unless it negates the laws of physics, we can develop anything. And amazing things are being developed. But is it always necessary or is the tech hype pulling the wool over our eyes and making us overcomplicate things? As John’s story just proved, we need to remind ourselves that there is still room for other kinds of innovation. Here’s what you stand to gain:

  1. Agile and cheaper ideas and solutions – New technology can be costly, with lengthy development time. Non-tech ideas can often be rolled out directly by its inventors (as opposed to external developers) using resources that are more readily available. As we saw with John, facial recognition software would have offered a similar service. But there is something about the “suitcase solution” that makes it a more feasible option (especially in the short term) and somewhat more elegant.
  2. Getting the whole company involved – Viewing innovation as tech solutions only, limits who is able to take part. When you widen the definition, you encourage everyone in the organization to contribute. If your company is serious about creating a culture of innovation, promoting new ways for doing things: whether it’s marketing, sales, enhancing productivity, developing new services…celebrate those directions too. What people come up with will surprise you.
  3. Breaking fixedness – Sometimes the process of innovation is overly technological. Instead of improving a given situation through examining both intuitive and non-intuitive directions, technology gets thrown into the mix as the obvious way to evolve (or to at least give the illusion that you are advancing and improving), regardless if it’s really needed or not. Take the Path of Most Resistance and see what results when you challenge your thinking to new, lucrative directions.

Technology might be the way of the future, but non-T innovation is still a worthy player in its own right. Let it have a loud voice in your organization. You never know what the future will be, and you want to be sure you have enough channels proposing it.