What Is Innovation?

Innovation is less technology, and more about mission.  People with a clear mission are free to innovate, because they know what to work on.  This article sorts through a number of definitions and perspectives on innovation and tries to uncover what innovation really is.  One thing that we conclude up front is that the definition of innovation is simpler than it seems.

This is the first part of a series of four articles on innovation.  This first part, “What Is Innovation?“ looks at a number of definitions and perspectives on innovation and tries to isolate what innovation really is.  Part 2, “Where to be Innovative“, identifies that innovation can take place anywhere…but needs to be prioritized.  Part 3, “Keys to Innovation Success“, looks at the pre-conditions and critical execution factors for innovation success.  Part 4, “How to Be Innovative“, looks at how an organization can intentionally be innovative.

Let’s walk through the definition of innovation from the perspective of:

  1. Dictionary definition
  2. Wikipedia definition
  3. What is NOT innovation?
  4. How does the business press define innovation?
  5. What I think innovation really is

Dictionary Definition of Innovation

The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides the following definition of innovation:

  1. the introduction of something new
  2. a new idea, method, or device

Synonyms for innovation include:

change, alteration, revolution, upheaval, transformation, metamorphosis, reorganization, restructuring, rearrangement, recasting, remodeling, renovation, restyling, variation; new measures, new methods, new devices, novelty, newness, unconventionality, modernization, modernism; a break with tradition, a shift of emphasis, a departure, a change of direction; informal shake up

Wikipedia Definition of Innovation

Wikipedia defines innovation as a “new idea, creative thoughts, new imaginations in form of device or method”.  It further elaborates the following different views of innovation:

  1. Innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.

2. Innovation reveals itself in more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or business models within the context of markets, governments and society.

3. An innovation is original – better than what preceded it – and an innovation “breaks into” or disrupts a market or even society.

4. Innovation is the practical implementation of an invention, but not all innovations require an invention.

5. Innovation of technical or scientific nature can happen via the engineering process.

What innovation is NOT

Turning to what is the opposite of innovation, the following quote opines that innovation is thwarted by the status quo:  “They favored the traditional approach and resisted innovation.”

I don’t take this to mean that traditional people or organizations cannot be innovative, nor do I take it that non-traditional people or organizations are by default innovative.  This is just a perspective – worth considering.

Business Press Definition of Innovation

Finally, in a more organizational context, an article in Forbes magazine entitled “What Exactly Is Innovation?” answers that innovation is a nebulous term.  It concludes that the new ‘Innovation Blog’ will concentrate on “how marketers, in particular, can innovate and work better with others in their firms to make great innovations happen, including how marketing organizations can be optimally structured to create cultures that encourage innovation.”

My Perspective on Innovation

Personally, I think that innovation isn’t so much about creating new ideas as about repackaging old ones.  Humanity advances, sometimes steadily and sometimes in spurts, using innovation by breaking down and reconnecting ideas and concepts that are already out there.  And history shows that this has happened by accident many times – but that it can also be intentional.

What do you think innovation is?

This Post is Part of the Series: Innovation

This series of four articles teaches about innovation.

  1. What is Innovation?
  2. Where to Be Innovative
  3. Keys to Innovation Success
  4. How to Be Innovative