What is Innovation? A Survey – Article

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What is Innovation? A Survey

By: Andrew Zenyuch, Innovative Issues Editor

The term innovation has really taken on a life of its own today. It’s pretty much everywhere you look – from almost every TV ad and company website to water-cooler talk and even presidential debate topics. Our founder, Chris Miller often jokes that innovation should have its own number on the stock exchange. It’s really turned into a hot topic not only in business, but in today’s culture itself.

With the term innovation being thrown around like it’s going out of style, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of what the term actually means. Many people who use the term regularly do not take the time to define what innovation means to them. They seem content just to say they’re innovative.

So what does innovation actually mean?

Merriam-Webster Online defines it as: “the introduction of something new” or “a new idea, method, or device.”

Wikipedia defines innovation as: “The term innovation may refer to both radical and incremental changes in thinking, in things, in processes or in services (Mckeown, 2008) Invention that gets out in to the world is innovation.”

Both are great starting definitions, but it feels like innovation is more then what is stated above. If it was that simple, why not just call it “new” and “changed”? Why throw the whole business world into a flurry? Why dedicate so much company time and energy to something as simple as “change” or “new”?

To find out, I surveyed the Innovation Focus staff. We’ve been in the innovation business for over 20 years, so I thought I might find a useful definition. Each person had a unique response from their perspective, and embellished on the simple definitions stated above:

“Innovation is the actualization of creative thought. In innovation we make the idea real. Creativity has a three step process… deep preparation and focus in area of expertise, exploration of irrelevant material and finally the connection back to the area of expertise… Innovation has a three step process as well: Discovery of the idea, Development of the idea, and finally Commercialization or implementation.”

“Innovation is the marriage of invention and creativity to produce practical applications.”

“Meaningful differentiation”

“In the broadest sense of the term, innovation means doing something (tangible or intangible) differently that results in improvements (tangible or intangible) that can be measured.” Also, “finding new and more meaningful ways to add/extract value that drops to the bottom line.”

“Innovation means positive change.”

“Innovation to me is connecting the dots differently than anyone else has thought to connect them. By doing so, different attributes, qualities or perspectives come into view that create opportunities that either did not exist before or were never visible. Seeing these opportunities and developing them faster and better than the competition allows the innovator to own the space and garner more of that opportunity.”

“Innovation to me can mean anything from the slightest most subtle improvement to a complete paradigm shift. When applied to the mundane processes of everyday life it can be nothing more than trying a new route to work or building a new Excel Macro (sorry my mind is always on systems). Sometimes things are better left alone and innovation comes from looking at it in a new way. Innovation lives and breathes and is always possible. The challenge comes in recognizing when we have found a truly new idea that can, with a little nurturing, fundamentally change the way we live and breathe.”

“Innovation is applied creativity, but so is invention. Perhaps the best way to answer “what is innovation?” is through the comparison of invention and innovation. The Patent and Trademark office defines patentability (invention) as something that is “novel”, “non-obvious” and “adequately described” (reduced to practice). Within this definition, an invention does not have to possess commercial value. For me, value is what defines innovation. The best definition for innovation I have come across is offered by the Chief Learning Officer of Goldman Sacs: “Innovation is fresh thinking that creates value”. This implies both a benefit and commercial potential. An innovation can be new to the world, new to the company, a line extension, product improvement, a re-positioning, and even a cost reduction. It should create value by: disrupting a market or industry and creating an entirely new one, creating a new position in the market, creating a new benefit, offering a new formula, create a new and useful technology, offer a way to enter a new market, provide a new way to sell or merchandize a product.”

As the variety of responses demonstrates, we believe innovation means more than something new or a change. To us, innovation means meaningful, differentiated change brought about by creativity that can be both small and game-changing.

Now I’d like to ask you, the Innovative Issues readers, what innovation means to you? Does your perception of innovation differ from ours? Is it the same? How so? You’re around innovation on a daily basis. Has this changed your view of it?