What is Innovation?

By Martin Gilliard

What is Innovation?..

Innovation is currently perceived to be one of the greatest contributors to increasing organisational value. A famous quote by Christopher Freeman emphasises this fact:

"…not to innovate is to die."

Innovation is about the successful exploitation of new ideas and it is essential for sustained competitiveness and wealth creation.

Companies that innovate generally stay ahead of the competition.

what is innovation

(Image Credit: TheOnlyOne)

Is My Project an Innovation?

Successful innovation requires good management, appropriate financial skills and a supportive overall climate.

To determine if a project is an innovation rather than an organisational change the following should be determined:

  • Is it a tangible product, process or procedure?
  • Is it new to the organisation within which it was introduced?
  • Is it intentional rather than accidental? (However innovations can result from accidental observations, see 3M Innovation for examples.)
  • Is it not simply a routine change?
  • Is it public in its effects?
  • Does it result in benefit to some person or organisation?

Why Innovate?

Innovation is the fountain of long-term business success.

Innovation is key to growth.

In the global market in which we all now operate today’s bestseller can be tomorrow’s failure. Innovation is often the means to help avoid failure.

But What Is Innovation How Do You Define it?

Innovation is generally something new to the environment that it is introduced. This newness could be a new product, new service, new process, new strategy, or new feature to something that already exists (see incremental innovation), etc.

While there is little consensus on how to exactly define innovation a number of good innovation definitions do exist.

With one of my favourites being the following...

“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)

When people ask me what is innovation I like to define it to them as creativity with a purpose… That is a creative idea that you see value in and then immediately begin to put that idea into action. The action part however can be quite complex, involving many departments, many skillsets, many people and resources, project management and excellent leadership skills.

Another way to consider innovation is to create something new that meets the needs of someone. When people pay for products or services they are doing so to either satisfy a need or to make something easier in their lives i.e. they are paying for the product or service to do a job for them. If you are able to determine what jobs need fulfilling and then consider what is currently available to meet those needs you can then start considering better ways to perform the job and meet the needs.

For example people go to the cinema to be entertained. When they get to the cinema and pay for the ticket, the movie that they see should serve the purpose of entertaining them. Cinemas therefore compete with other forms of entertainment. In the movie arena they now compete with innovations such as video on demand and home cinema surround sound / high definition home viewing options. But they also compete with other forms of entertainment, this could be sporting events, video gaming consoles, musicals, etc. To be innovative in the entertainment industry you would either need to think of new forms of entertainment or ways to improve people’s current entertainment experiences.

When considering what is innovation it can also be simply a matter of problem solving i.e. finding a new and creative way to solve someone or some group’s problem. Meeting a requirement with new know how, new knowledge or new technology or a combination of such. 

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