Innovation is the philosophy often assigned to young entrepreneurs, companies, and even this column, Accounting Tomorrow, as we aim to give voice to progressive, change-leading and even "disruptive" CPAs and firms.

It has also become a default descriptor that, in the accounting world especially, is awarded for merely embracing "new" technology and practices that have outgrown their novelty. Not that these advances should be trivialized, but they can get conflated with the more actionable elements of innovative thinking.

This became clear during the MACPA Business Learning Institute's "The End of Competitive Advantage" live and virtual event led by Columbia Business School professor, speaker and leadership consultant Rita McGrath. She spoke about companies needing to "develop a pipeline of competitive advantages" that would include business that is both mature and reliable, and new and less dependable. This pipeline, she explained, could not be left to chance, but needs a solid resource allocation and governance system. "The common misconception at companies is that getting good ideas is the problem, but that's almost never" the case, she said. Instead, the issue is a lack of "innovation proficiency."

The language of innovation includes positive and negative feedback: "Leaders need to put enormous emphasis on candor, to hear bad news and get these conversations going to get to innovation." This ability to hear, seek out - and then act on negative developments early is part of a broader, discovery-driven mindset that characterizes the best kind of "lifelong learner" leaders.

It can still be tricky to crystallize exactly what separates the truly innovative companies, firms and people from the merely progressive ones, but a fully stocked bookcase (or, perhaps, e-reader) is one safe starting point.

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