A Definition Of Innovation

I like the following definition of innovation, which is quoted by Paul Trott a recognized authority on the subject:

“Innovation is not a single action but a total process of interrelated sub-processes. It is not just the conception of a new idea, nor the invention of a new device, nor the development of a new market. The process is all these things acting in an integrated fashion.” – Myers & Marquis (1969)

The Encarta dictionary defines innovation as noun Definition:

  1. origination: the act or process of inventing or introducing something new
  2. new idea or method: a new invention or way of doing something suspicious of fax machines and other technological innovations

definition of innovation
However, in the academic world, there is little consensus on exactly how to define innovation.

Some of the more popular definitions:

“Innovation is the degree to which changes are intentionally implemented that is new to the organization” (Mohr, 1969).

Damanpour (1991) defined innovation as:

“the generation, development, and adaptation of novel ideas on the part of the firm”.

The European Commission Green paper (1999) on innovation defines innovation as:

“The successful production, assimilation and exploitation of novelty in the economic and social spheres”.

Nohria and Gulati (1996) give the following definition of innovation:

“include any policy, structure, method or process, or any product or market opportunity that the manager of an operating unit perceives to be new.”

Zaltman et al. (1973) defined innovation as:

“any idea, practice, or material artifact perceived to be new by the relevant unit of adoption”.

And Boer and During define it as:

“Innovation is the creation of a new product–market–technology–organization combination” (Boer and During, 2001).

In its most simple form, I like to think of innovation as the process of introducing something new.

Innovation goes through a number of innovation phases, namely, project definition, coalition building and last but not least, action.

There are many different types of innovation with incremental (incremental improvements to an existing product or process) and radical (something entirely new) being two of the more mentioned types amongst innovation professionals.

With any innovation, there is an element of risk. For further information please see innovation and risk-taking.

You may also want to read an explanation of what is innovation? Learn about some of the sources of innovation or discover the importance of fast innovation.

Define Innovation

There is little consensus on exactly how to define innovation. Whilst it is widely understood and accepted that innovation is a major source of an organization’s competitive advantage. There tend’s to be many actual definitions of innovation. Such variations often exist so as to better meet the requirements or characteristics of a particular study.

Existing definitions range from the highly specific to highly generalized.

It is thought that accurately defining innovation will impact in-house and outsourced activities.

What is common in most definitions of innovation is a focus on novelty and newness and that it creates a profit or adds economic value to the organization responsible for it.

define innovation(Image Credit: Hugh D’A)

Novelty and newness are acceptable however the fact that innovation must create a profit or add economic value is a mistake as innovations do not always create value for an organization.

One such example of an innovation that did not add value to its organization was the Sinclair C5 electric car. Sinclair Vehicles was put into receivership on 12 October 1985.

In the 1930s Joseph Schumpter put forward five types of innovation definitions…

Introduction of a new product or a qualitative change in an existing product

Process innovation new to an industry

Opening of a new market

Development of new sources of supply for raw material

Other inputs and changes in the industrial organization

How Innovation Definitions Are Derived

Generally, innovation definitions are derived from one or a combination of the following:

The generation of a new idea: This is where new ideas are formed from old ideas, or new relationships/perspectives are formed between entities or subjects

The invention of something new: A new product or service

The diffusion of new ideas: The transfer of new ideas to new geographic locations

Improving something: This can be improving a product or service, for example, to make it commercially viable as Thomas Edison did with the electric light bulb or it can be improving a system or process

Doing something different: Getting to the end result of a task or problem by doing something radically different from what would be expected

Adopting something new to the social setting of which it is applied: This is where something that has proven to be successful or useful elsewhere is used to similar advantage in a new environment.

Market-based: An innovation that is developed to meet the needs of a market.

New perspective: Seeing something from a new perspective

Incremental improvements: Making incremental improvements to a product or service or implementing continuous improvement (kaizen) as can happen from applying Lean techniques

For an explanation of the various different innovation types please visit the types of innovation page.


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