Innovation is one of those words that everyone loves to hate. Everyone knows what it means, and no one really seems to know exactly how to define it.
But there are some interesting things about innovation. For example, according to research conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review, innovation is among the most desired qualities in leaders. And according to Gallup, innovation is ranked as one of the top three traits admired in successful companies.
In the seminal HBR article by Peter Drucker ( The Discipline of Innovation ), we are invited to think about where innovation comes from and how it can be linked to entrepreneurialism.
So why do we hate it so much? Why does it cause so much confusion?
The word itself is very vague. We don’t really know what it means. So if I say that my company is innovative, we might think that I mean that we come up with new products every day. Or maybe I am just saying that we are always looking for ways to improve our existing product lines.
Or perhaps I mean that we are constantly improving our processes. Maybe we are changing our way of doing things. Perhaps we are trying out different marketing strategies. In short, we could be doing anything.
And that’s where the problem lies. Because while it is true that we want to innovate, we often fail to communicate it clearly. When we talk about innovation, we tend to focus on the actions we take rather than the goals we set.
We make sure that our employees understand that we want to change the way we work. We introduce new technologies. We try new marketing techniques. We even look into new ways of working together. All great stuff. But none of that communicates what we want to achieve.
I have been involved in the process of innovation for as long as I can remember. Whilst for some, the term innovation means doing something different, I consider that innovation is a process of improvement.
We live in a world of fast change, and we need to reflect that at times, some people need to stop – to consolidate and to take in air. I have not always thought this, but a skilled innovation lead will recognise that this is the case, and press pause when the idea is moving too fast.
Innovation is an important concept. It’s what makes companies succeed and what keeps them competitive. Innovation can be found in everything from the latest technological advancements to new ways of doing business and solving problems. It can be a process of change, a sequence of increment change or incremental innovation, or could be something new, a disruptive innovation, that can help to change market understanding and perception.
But what is innovation?
A number of different definitions for innovation have been proposed by researchers. Baregheh et al. (2009) found around 60 definitions in different scientific papers, while a 2014 survey found over 40. According to their survey, Baraghi et al. Attempted to create a multi-disciplinary innovation meaning and came up with the below definition:
“Innovation is the multi-stage process whereby organizations transform ideas into new/improved products, service or processes, in order to advance, compete and differentiate themselves successfully in their marketplace”.
It helps us to create, increase and maintain competitive advantage in a marketplace.
Simply generating creative ideas is different though and is often considered to be innovation. Creativity is a part of the innovation process where we maximise the ideas and solutions that could be applied to a program, system, or challenge.
In this blog post, we will explore different ways people define innovation and how it affects their everyday lives.
Innovation refers to changing things for the better.
Innovation refers to changing things for the better. It is about improvement, new ideas and solutions that have never before existed in that context. Innovation is about moving forward instead of staying the same. Innovation is not a new concept – it has been part of the human experience for centuries. From the wheel to fire, humans have always sought out ways to change their environment and improve their lives. Innovation is not just about making something new but also making something better than what currently exists.
Innovators are people who see opportunities for change, improvement and growth in their own lives and in the lives of others. They are not afraid of breaking with traditional approaches or thinking outside the box in order to develop new methods or products that will help them achieve their goals more efficiently.
An alteration of the status quo
Status Quo exists in a place of stability and amidst this stability comes stickiness. A stickiness that sticks people hard to the position of least resistance, usually around an area where a process is embedded within an organisation.
If we consider the innovation process as part of a system improvement, we are working on a process of change – innovation is an alteration of the status quo. It’s a change to what we’re used to, whether it’s a tangible product or service, or something more abstract.
Therefore change management processes (Kotter for example) could be / and should be used to help in this change be it processual, systemised or product.
Innovation can be positive or negative: it can be good for society and bad for society; its benefits may extend beyond one person’s interests, but they can also be limited in scope. A new type of technology might save lives by making medical procedures easier and less invasive, but it could also make some jobs obsolete—like those held by radiologists who read X-rays—making their income dependent on their ability to adapt with new skillsets if necessary.
On a smaller scale, innovation is often described as “thinking outside the box.” This means that instead of thinking about problems within traditional parameters (e.g., how will we get this project done?) innovators will consider unconventional solutions that seem impossible at first glance but hold great potential once implemented successfully (e.g., using robots instead). Ironically “thinking outside the box” as a very term can anchor people in stuckness – as all they can think about is be in the box.
A new idea, device or process
Innovation is the application of new ideas, devices or processes to solve a problem. It involves bringing something completely new to the market, improving upon existing products and services, or implementing an entirely different approach to doing things.
Innovation is a process, not a single event. It’s about making small changes over time until you find something that works for your business.
Innovation can be small or large—it doesn’t matter how big (or small) your innovation is so long as it creates some sort of change in how you do things or what kind of impact it has on people who use your product or service.
A worked example,
I used to work for a gas company. We supplied welding gases into many places. In one particular instance, a production plant that welded its final product was running at maximum capacity. The challenge was to get product through the production plant quicker thereby increasing output. We understood simplistically that a weld was created when energy was applied to the metal and caused it to melt. The energy required to melt the metal did not differ and therefore the speed of the mill was dependant on getting more energy into the weld – how could we get this to run hotter?
At the time, the company was using Argon as an inert gas carrier – something that meant that as the metal heated, it did not oxidise. It also contributed to the heat that was able to be ut into the weld.
We experimented with increasing voltage (which meant more heat), but this failed. We then thought about using Helium. Initially, we discounted this, because of the significant uplift in cost of the gas. But, on testing, we found that we could indeed put more heat into the weld – and therefore turn up the mill speed to counter this. The weld quality was good – all we had no was the commercials to consider.
This is where we realised that the increased profit generated by the plant by the increased throughput offset significantly the cost of the gas. The company was happy, as was mine as we had not only solved a challenging problem for our client, but increased profitability for both companies.
Something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new
Innovation is not just about new ideas. It’s a process of change. Innovation is an approach to thinking, acting and being. It’s more than just coming up with something that hasn’t been done before—it requires an open mind and an understanding of what people want or need in the first place. The world has changed dramatically since we started using landline phones, but they’re still around because they serve a purpose. The same goes for laptops: sure, smartphones have taken over in terms of popularity these days, but some people still prefer a laptop because it allows them to work on multiple tasks simultaneously (i.e., writing emails while watching videos).
If you want to be innovative you have to look at your product from every angle possible; if there’s no barrier between yourself and someone trying out your idea then there won’t be any obstacles stopping them from trying something new either.
Replacing the old with something new
Innovation is the creation of something that has never before existed. It can be the replacement of the old with something new, such as when cell phones replaced landlines. It can also be a new idea or device, like Velcro or YouTube. Innovation can also be a new process, like how we make cars today versus how we made them in 1900. Finally, innovation can be an improvement on an existing product or service that makes it more useful and accessible to people who need it most — this could include everything from eye glasses to refrigerators!
The creation of something that has never before existed.
Innovation is the creation of something that has never before existed. It is a new and more effective way of doing something, replacing the old with something new. You can innovate by simply improving upon an existing idea, product, or service by making it better or faster than before. When you innovate, you are creating an original and more effective solution to a problem or challenge.
Innovation is the process of creating new ideas and implementing them on a large scale. Innovation has been an important factor for businesses for centuries. The ability to innovate distinguishes one company from another and can be the difference between success or failure in today’s competitive environment.
As an entrepreneur, a coach, and a creator, I recognise that we can get stuck in the process of innovation. If this helps, I see creativity as the door handle that opens the way to improvement. How you define this improvement, if you indeed need to, is with you. This could be associated with a process improvement, a new product, a new way of doing something, or an acceptance of a vision.
The future is in your hands – so what is behind your door?