One of my favorite current buzzwords is “innovation.” It’s everywhere these days: innovation sessions, innovation movements, cultures of innovation – Fast Company even has a festival for it! It’s bandied about with lots of enthusiasm, and now it’s a performance metric for most of us. Question is, what is innovation really, and how do you know when something is innovative or just another wacky idea?

Let’s find out.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, innovation is “the introduction of something new” and/or “a new idea, method, or device.” This merely means something is new; it doesn’t say it must be good. Business Dictionary defines it as “The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.” Sounds more like it, yes? For those of us in the business world, even those of us in HR, we’re being requested to innovate and create cultures where people come up with newer, better ideas for customers before competitors get to them first.

Believe it or not, the same tips to creating innovative ideas for yourself can also translate into crafting a culture that supports it. Here are five tips that will help you create innovation that matters:

  1. Start where you are – Great innovation often starts with knowing who you are, what you like, and what you don’t. When creating ideas for next-level experiences or offerings, think about what you would want as a desired future state by placing yourself in the position of your client. Would you want your new, crazy idea? If so, how would you like it delivered? If you wouldn’t want your idea, what about it could be used as part of something you would desire? It helps to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
  2. Create from a desire to serve – Most of the time, we’re concerned with the bottom line instead of coming to a solution from a sincere desire to be of service to our clients. What keeps them up at night? How can you solve their problems? How are you uniquely qualified to give them something they need but don’t even know they want? A true desire to serve comes from the heart, which is often where true innovation lies.
  3. Secure your advantages – One of the reasons Apple continues to be successful is that it thinks of everything when it comes to the customer experience with their products. It secures its advantages: the new iPhone means new Bluetooth headphones; iPads require a stylus to utilize the write-on-screen technology; the new iWatch has practically erased other fitness band competition with a customizable Nike watchband and a water-resistant carriage. For every one of your products or services, think about how to set it apart from your competitors so comparisons are almost non-existent.
  4. Create a better experience – Netflix has transformed the entertainment industry, turning streaming media into the most disruptive form of media in history. Amazon has transformed shopping with drone delivery, Amazon Prime, and Audible. Google’s experience is so vital to our world it’s become of our lexicon. What do your customers want next? How can you transform their experience with the mundane to make it extraordinary?
  5. What’s coming – Get outside what’s currently being offered in the marketplace and explore emerging technology and social disruptors. What’s the next big thing that will replace social media? Is there another big app that’s coming after Snapchat? What’s the next evolution in global communications? Read everything, watch the market, get in front of what’s next before it’s a “thing” yet, and you could find yourself riding market disruption right into future profitability.

We talk a lot about innovation, and it’s crucial to the survival of businesses everywhere. Constantly thinking about how and why to get ahead of what’s coming is the key to a culture of innovation. There aren’t really any bad ideas; just brainstorms that have yet to be born.