07/03/2013 05:18 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sustainable Innovation: Put Your Values to Work

Innovation is about creating a better or more efficient product or organization. When innovating from your values, the critical questions are:

Who are you serving? Why and how are you serving them?

What economic and social imperatives does your organization share with those you serve?



And profitable innovation awaits.


Take Zipcar, for example, whose ingenious "Wheels When You Want Them" value proposition allows users to save money while reducing overcrowding and pollution in cities. Zipcar grew four-fold in its first five years, reaching $242 million in revenues in 2011. That's maximizing profit by meeting societal needs.

This kind of values-driven innovation is not limited to startups; established business is also capitalizing.

Share these examples to get others on board:


Chart References

Here are three steps to get you started doing the same:

1: Clarify

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. - Steve Jobs

The first step is to clarify your vision. From enhancing human health and well-being to protecting our natural environments, societal imperatives that lead to economic benefit abound. The challenge is finding clarity and focus for your organization.

To narrow in on where you can leverage shared value, ask:

1. What are our biggest impacts?

2. What are our unique skills?

3. What can we affect?


Start there. Decide where to act. And, more importantly, where not to. Stay relevant.

Action: Answer the questions above and ask colleagues to answer the same. Compare notes. The overlap is the sweet spot for innovation and a vision for your team.

2: Carry Out

Vision without execution is hallucination. - Thomas Edison

Now, how to make that vision real? How do you move from the company you are today to the value innovator of the future?


This is the single greatest differentiating factor between a successful and an unsuccessful initiative.

Now that you have decided on the innovation sweet spot for your organization, backcast from that vision into action. Imagine your organization is already innovating from your values and you have reached your sustainable future state. You have arrived here in your sustainable future from there, the unsustainable past. How did you do it?


Action: Create a 12-month M.A.P. (Massive Action Plan) to chart your course from past to future. Download this template and place one goal in each month to make it digestible and realistic. At the end of the year youʼll have taken twelve important steps on your journey.

3: Collaborate

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself. - Henry Ford

Even with your vision and MAP in hand, you'll need some help along the way. Viewing competitors as collaborators is one of the most effective ways to grow that innovation sweet spot.

Collaboration expands the talent pool and the scope of what you can affect.

Leading organizations are hip to this powerful tool, both inside and beyond their industry. From Wal-Mart with Patagonia to Ford with Whirlpool, collaboration is the new black; it's timeless and looks great on everyone.

Action: Open the door and extend an invitation -- identify three potential collaborators in your industry and three outside your industry. Initiate contact with these collaborators by the end of this month (yep, whatever month this is when you read it and however soon the end of it is: Get started!). Send them this article and invite them to exchange reactions to it over a coffee or call.