Six Differences Between Change and Innovation

Change and innovation are not synonyms, but unfortunately these terms are mistakenly used in practice by professionals and business leaders as if they are the same. By doing so, it creates just more confusion and uncertainty about which way to go. Simply because the essence, the process and outcomes of change and innovation are fundamentally different. Especially in the current change of era in which innovation is essential to rise as an individual, organization and society towards an upward spiral. By first being aware of some essential differences, we are able to apply them more consciously in practice. This creates a positive impact in our thoughts and focused actions to achieve the desired objectives.

1.Incidental vs Structural

Change is incidental, innovation is structural. Change is about modifying processes, rules, workflows and infrastructure to achieve better results. For example, you can think about redesigning a living room where the furniture is put in a different place and various colours are used to create a different view. Common expressions like optimizing and maximizing are used here while the group or organization still continues to operate from the same foundation. So, safety and comfort zone are maintained here. Many changes can be applied without inducing any learning effect. Making changes continuously is not the same as innovation and does not increase the likelihood towards it.

Innovation is structural. It’s about laying down a new foundation on which a new construction can be built with new features and capabilities, without bringing in content in advance. Think for example of placing a new wall or breaking down an existing wall in the room causing a bigger space or an extra room. When you innovate, it’s important that you work with new principles, make conscious choices of what is desired and needed, while letting go of what you cannot use or what provides no added value for the end-user. You are always on the move to experiment and to learn from things that are not going according to plan. Until you reach your desired goal without knowing in advance how it actually looks like when you started. An innovation is created only once, after which you can change it multiple times for further optimisation or improvement.

  1. Starting Point: Different worlds

The starting point of change is “the world as it is”. And immediately we are confronted with a huge problem. Namely the big discrepancy between “the world as we think it is” and “the world as it really is.” It is this difference in our mental perception combined with the thorough shielding of crucial information, which makes it difficult for us to know what is real and subsequently what to change. Making changes in a “world as you think it is”, is an expensive way of keeping yourself busy. The strong belief of everyone’s rightness explain a large part of the suffocations that take place within and between organizations.

The starting point of innovation is “the world as it should be”. This is a world transcending individual and organizational stakes and where the perspective of the end user becomes the “hotspot”. In short, the external perspectives, interests and needs are included from the start. This creates a more realistic picture of the inner and outer world. This is not only a fundamentally different starting point, it’s also a world where nine out of ten people think collectively alike.

  1. Identity and Vision

When changing, one is working on the current situation and how it can be improved based on what is already there. It does not matter whether or not having a vision or philosophy. In most cases, it’s lacking or not compelling and induces inward-looking by which the internal point of view becomes leading. External signs and trends may be seen but cannot be properly valued, by which no further actions are undertaken.

When innovating, having an identity is more than a necessity. Besides understanding where you come from, what the shared values are and what to convey to others, having a vision on how the future should look like is also one of the most important aspects. It is between these two marks where the path of innovation is to be found. The stronger and more transparent these are, the easier it is to find new opportunities and develop innovative solutions.

  1. Outside-in vs Inside-out

Change has an outside-in approach, is mechanical and has a cosmetic nature. It does not require behavioural changes, but leans on adaptation of people and means towards the current existing systems. Change starts with the analysis of workflows and processes to increase the impact of the processes. The tight steering derived from power, management and control are characteristic here.

Innovation has an inside-out approach and comes from within the person, organisation or society and is accompanied with fundamental behavioural changes. Innovation starts with a different mind-set and understanding how the bigger world works. Here it’s about the power of the human spirit and purpose for driving excellent performance. Self-steering derived from courage, responsibility for one another, and resilience are characteristic to deal with new situations.

  1. Certainty vs Uncertainty

In change the focus is mainly on incorporating created certainties with a predictable set of steps. It is a clear-defined solid path in order to work towards known outcomes whilst stimulating aversion of risk. Deviations are analysed and difficult to tolerate since everything is put in place to remain within the boundaries of the solid path. What lies beyond these, does not exist and is also not included. Doubt is kept safely outside.

In innovation the focus is on learning how to deal with uncertainty and allowing unexpected coincidences. It’s about observing your own emotions and actions objectively by using your own inner compass. It’s a road with main points that become clearer along the way whilst stimulating risk-conscious behaviour for detecting and utilising new opportunities. It is a collective quest from one island to another without knowing the duration and/or different outcome in advance.

  1. Administration vs Transformation

Change is of administrative nature. Trying to fight the ongoing internal battle for scarcity and means. The main focus is here on adjustment, reduction and/or re-design processes, positions of FTE’s to do more of the same against lower costs. This is the leading principle of most cost-reduction operations and reorganisations, where the outer side may still look nice, but the inner side becomes in time hollow or non-healthy.

Innovation is of transformative nature. The main focus is here on re-inventing yourself and the organisation and to re-define your reason for existence, license-to-operate, looking from a future perspective. This is about learning to see new opportunities, creating and utilising these to become or remain future-proof by unleashing the available human potential. Creativity, resilience and problem-solving capacity are the key qualities here that make a difference for the end-user.

“True leadership embraces uncertainty whilst avoiding instability”

Change and innovation can go well together, but are certainly not the same. If started at the right moment, they can be synergetic. Use these terms carefully then. The challenge for most people, teams and organisations is not only to understand what innovation is, but especially where and how to start in a right and safe way.

We invite you to connect with us at LinkedIn ( or join one of our collaboration and innovation Expeditions.

  • Published on Published onAugust 27, 2014

by Asha Nagesser


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