Have you noticed how common it is these days for any article focusing on improvement in today's challenging business environment to include the need, even the requirement for, that magic word "innovation?"

From presidents of companies to the president of the United States, innovation is positioned as the key for economic survival and prosperity. It appears that if we, collectively, can just get enough of this innovation

thing, then all our problems will disappear.

This innovation solution has erroneously started to take on all the trappings of a product and, as such, can be easily thought to be acquired through a defined distribution system. "Need three buckets of innovation, well then just go on down to the innovation supply store and buy yourself three buckets. Might as well go ahead and pick up a spare bucket of innovation, just in case. Don't want to run short!"

Now as silly as this may sound, if you listen to the politically correct sound bites with their bumper sticker appeal and ask the simple questions of how and where does one obtain this innovation, a "deer-in-the-headlights" look will verify the gap between cheap talk vs. effective action.

Yet the answers to both are connected and in the end very simple.

At its base level, innovation is nothing more than the implementation of a new idea or method. As a verb, to innovate, means to do something in a new way.

There are two very important and complementary functions here.

First, ideas are the only things that give birth to new products and approaches and people are the only sources of ideas. So at the end of the day, when someone suggests that your success is dependent upon innovation, then they are really telling you that your success is dependent upon your ability to access creative ideas. Notice please that it does not imply that you, the entrepreneurial manager, must be the sole source of creative ideas.

Rather, the accessing is a combination of your personal idea generation, your ability to recruit and retain other employees who also have creative ideas, and finally the ability to tap into creative pools outside of your organization.

The second piece of the definition is equally important, for without it innovation cannot occur. This is, of course, the skill of implementation, the ability to devise a plan and bring that plan to fruition. As with the need for idea generation, every entrepreneurial manager has to have people who can get things done and get them done correctly and on time. Some folks personify both skill sets where others are clearly stronger in one area more so than in the other. But any successful organization has to incorporate and value both.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurial managers shorthange themselves and their careers by focusing too much on the implementation skill set when looking for new hires.

There are no shortages of tools and training to assist virtually anyone in the task of implementation.

But there are no such tools that will assist creative people in having multiple "ah ha" moments, when their God-given talent finds an opportunity for expression. It is only through people having these multiple moments that a company can even begin to incorporate innovation into a business model for success.

John F. Riddell Jr., director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth-Hamilton County, writes every other Tuesday about entrepreneurs and their impact on companies and the marketplace. Submit comments to his attention by writing to Business Editor John Vass Jr., Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at