What is your definition of Innovation?

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This topic contains 16 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  Mark Hammer 9 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #110676

    Bill Annibell

    I find that the word “innovation” has been thrown around quite a bit lately and I am curious…what is your definition of Innovation?

  • #110708

    Mark Hammer

    I’m in the midst of a debate on a hobby-related forum regarding “genius”, “creativity”, and “talent”, so “innovation” is only a short skip away.

    Most employee surveys I see will include a question that more or less inquires whether they are encouraged to be “innovative” in their workplace, so clearly people place some value on it. But at what point is innovation simply disruptive? Should we expect, or do we want, border/prison guards or regulatory officers (environment or food-safety inspectors) to be “innovative”?

    Well, no, most folks would respond. This would suggest that the definition of innovation is both different, depending on context, and different depending on role.

    Then there is the the other aspect of innovation: the evidence. Years ago, a buddy showed me a wonderful ad slogan for the advertising company Benton & Bowles: It’s not creative unless it sells. ( http://www.thesuccessionplanner.com/exit-strategies/remembering-its… ) Innovations have to accomplish something, not be merely new and different. Some “innovations” can simply involve borrowing something from another domain and applying it to a context where it hadn’t been applied before. Even if it isn’t a brand new idea per se, if it allows your organization or work unit to accomplish things or accomplish them with a degree of facility or coordination not previously attainable, that can count as innovation.

    Here’s an interesting on-line journal I had the pleasure of writing a few book-reviews for, that’s all about innovation in the public sector: http://www.innovation.cc/ . Maybe there’s some good ideas there.

  • #110706

    Sterling Whitehead

    I can’t say I know exactly what innovation is, but I’m sure it’s a part of the Innovation Leadership Network. It’s something I read on a daily basis.

  • #110704

    Brian Gryth

    I think Scott Berkun has the best definition, “significant positive change.” I also like Tim Brown’s “good ideas well executed”.

    It is, however, worth noting that if you really care about innovation you should read Berkun’s book “The Myths of Innovation” (Amazon link). The book points out the significant problems related to how innovation is treated and view. The reality of innovation, like many things, is not how it is portrayed.

  • #110702

    Jeffrey Alexander

    The best general definition of innovation I know (and I’ve done a lot of research on the topic) is from The Diffusion of Innovations by Everett Rogers, first published in 1962:

    “An innovation is an idea, practice or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption.”

    I like this because it’s value-neutral–innovations can be beneficial for certain groups but detrimental to others (for example, the widespread use of automobiles certainly hurt the manufacturers of horse-drawn carriages). Also, Rogers stresses that what matters is the PERCEPTION that the innovation is new–something that is old news to one person may be new and “innovative” to another. The degree to which something is “innovative” is related inextricably to its context.

  • #110700

    Andrew Humulock

    As I review something that is tagged as innovative, I find that there are many ideas already out there, so coming up with something new and “innovative” is very difficult these days. When I think of innovation, In a nutshell- either streamlining or viewing an already existiting system or process from a different angle. Making a positive change with more beneficial value for all users. Tweaking Form, Fit, and Function in a way that has not been done before…

  • #110698

    Chris Bennett

    A culture of continually inventing useful things

  • #110696

    Mark Hammer

    Here is a decent and provocative book I can recommend on the topic: http://www.amazon.com/Enabling-Knowledge-Creation-Mystery-Innovation/dp/0195126165

    It’s been a couple of years since I read it, so I forget whether they actually define “innovation”, but their principal focus is on creating the hospitable conditions for innovation. It can include things as seemingly trivial as lunchroom location/design.

    If they DO have some tacit definition of organizational innovation, it would likely be some sort of change that comes about via knowledge-sharing and “silo-busting”.

  • #110694

    Marco Morales

    I would tend to think along the lines of what Alexander Graham Bell and Guglielmo Marconi did with the inventions of the telephone and radio telegraph system, respectively. The NASA folks have an ongoing “invent the Future” contest which shows quite a few examples of innovative ideas brewing, as it were, and waiting to be discovered and/or implemented. Check it out at the following link:


  • #110692

    Jeffrey Alexander

    One problem that keeps coming up is that innovation is both an act (“my team is engaged in innovation”) and an artifact (“the telephone was a great innovation in its time”). It’s easy to find yourself defining very different things as “innovation.”

    My idea of innovation as an act is that it’s very close to experimentation–it’s just trying something new and different from what you’ve tried before. A lot of innovations actually “fail” in the sense that they don’t achieve their original goals. However, many innovations that fail can be very beneficial, and even an innovation that fails may jar an organization into moving in a new and more productive direction. Remember, one original application for the telephone was as a broadcast medium to transmit opera performances over a great distance. It “failed” to fulfill that purpose but had many other useful purposes.

  • #110690

    Stephen Dixon

    I believe most of the comments here are correct or partly correct. As Manager of Research and Innovation at a public service delivery agency, I have often referred to the OECD Oslo Manual for what I think is a good definition/explanation.

    An innovation is the implementaion of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organizational method in business practices, workplace organization or external relations.”

    A little wordy maybe, but complete in my opinion. The key point that is sometimes overlooked is that it is the “implementation” of something new and improved… not just the idea. Also, as a minimum requirement, it need not be “new” to the world but can be new to an organization.

    Great discussion!

  • #110688

    Andrea Schneider

    Andrew K. posted this question in my social networking group, so I’ll make a go of it, but not by myself. I refer to many thinkers in answering a question like that! I do think the word innovation is kicked around easily, without discipline or any framework. There are a number of places I go when I want to clear my head about some key concepts, I add to the list all the time.

    One of my favorites is Ideo.com the most amazing design professionals ever. I’ll refer you specifically to Innovation Strategy as a thoughtful and openly shared set of ideas which are far ranging with common themes.

    While Ideo.com resides in the business sector, I find some of the best thinking in companies interested in social enterprise. Certainly not always the place I would normally think of finding some of the most intelligent writing on the subject.

    If you are in government, you can translate the terms which focus on business strategies, although I think government needs to think more like a business, or at least consider some of their key learnings. I believe we would get a lot more done by pairing government idea leaders with idea leaders in business. There is a convergence occurring between sectors that I haven’t seen before, I think we should capitalize on it.

    I’ve recently been introduced to the Ash Center at Harvard and am impressed with what they are doing, thinking and writing about. I know I could go crazy finding and reading other sites as well.

    I think we are seeing examples of innovation in the work Kevin is doing with CityCamp, Lucas with the Open Government Directive workshops, Sunlight Foundation on Transparency, OpenPlans, Smarter Cities, Code for America, GovLoop, and so many others coming to my attention every day. I am impressed as I watch many of these efforts hook up and collaborate together, each bringing talent to the table for better outcomes. It’s refreshing. I think it’s an example of innovation.

    I am disappointed right now with most of the federal agencies, which are stuck with worn out internal issues of power, control, lack of confidence, poor leadership, redundancy between and among agencies and a general lack of capacity to even think about innovation.

    I am challenging the Executive Branch to conduct organizational assessments of each agency to see if they even have what it takes to carry out the Open Government Directive, my informed guess is absolutely not, therefore we can’t expect the changes promised. We need champions for each phase of change.

    Going further, I challenge Congress to conduct assessments on how many times they fund the same thing over and over again, that’s old news too. It ridiculous how much money we could save if these two branches did some innovative things themselves and had the grit and guts to take a deeper look.

    I recently wrote about this on the Sunlight Foundation’s Blog in response to Ellen Miller’s very smart presentation at the Gov 2.0 Summit.

    I think it takes a willingness to be different, maybe even be kicked around, to be innovative and think about new ways of doing old things better. I’d like to know what people think, what holds them back from being innovative, introducing ideas from all kinds of places, where they currently work?

    I’ve been in so many government meetings where outside the meeting participants will offer great ideas, I’ll say, ‘bring it up, you have to say it’, and they don’t back inside the room out of some cultural fear. We are such losers when we allow this type of behavior and environment to exist. Why should raising your hand in a meeting make so many people sick to their stomachs?

    I offer ideo.com as an example where the culture is all about good ideas, but not just for the sake of it. They have much bigger goals which require people to go beyond the norm. Creativity and innovation are expectations, not after thoughts.

    This is not what is driving our current organizational government structures at all. I want the Executive Branch to conduct organizational assessments, I want to know if employees even have ‘permission’ to be innovative within their organizations. If they don’t, none of it will happen if the pressure isn’t on. Every bureaucrat knows how to outlive each administration. Leadership for this cultural realignment has to come from the top. We will miss this moment in time, it is a rare opportunity. We will miss it because we haven’t put enough pressure on the White House to go to the next step. We need them to take their own initiative past the first stage, or, they will leave us with great words and ideas, but no serious action, no matter how hard we try. It would be a deep and huge disappointment to waste this energy and opportunity, to actually do something really different, number one, and then two, make it sustainable. The great thing about what we want to do is it is non-partisan, unless so many special interests have their hands on the inside, as they did with the terrible Gulf Coast disaster.

    I’d live to take all the so called jargon words and phrases and put some definition around them too. Language is one way to keep people out, not invite them in. The more simple and practical we can make it the more action and interest we will see.

  • #110686

    Avi Dey

    Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.
    Peter Drucker

  • #110684

    Stephen Dixon

    What about those new ideas that are implemented and that improve something but are not an instrument of entrepreneurship and do not create wealth? You may find examples in medicine, science, psychology.

  • #110682

    Avi Dey

    “Innovation in medicine, science or psychology, how are they different or similar to tech biz entrepreneurs” innovationas Peter Drucker has defined ?

    Discussion: Your point is a good one, thank you ! There are major differences. I will briefly point to the key difference between tech biz innovation, and science (that inlcudes medicine and psychology in broader perspectives of science).

    It is helpful to use millitary language here, “strategic” & “tachtical”. Tech biz must have a ‘tactical’ focus, for example, technology commericalization to come up with prducts & services via innovation.

    Science, is “strategic’. I have looked at select “Nobel in Medicine” carefully, vital to ‘tactical’ of tech biz. For example, Marshall Nirenberg’s shared Nobel in Medicine, ushered in today’s biotech industry in the early 70’s creatiing “tactical’ opportuities for bio innovators in tech biz.

    But Nirenberg & others labored ‘strategically’ at govie labs & university labs, 20 years or more to create the breakthrough of a new industry in the ealy 70’s. I know this story well as similar story in electronics, ‘integrated circuits’, for example. A bit different, as the industry anchors are somewhat different.

    Last comment is that we are all a ‘prisoner’ of ‘nature vs nurture’ in our lives. But clearly, borth “Strategic’ & Tactical’ elements of innovation are vital to the knowledge economy that is rapidly gaining on America as other leading nations of the world on a family, community, and tech hub basis as human nature dictates (both sides of ‘nature vs nurture”).

    What can be done to improve our ability to innovate ? Answer: Hope a broder discussion & collaborations would be possible if ‘yea” !

    I am ready to help and participate if you are !

  • #110680

    Meredith Mengel

    Solving problems creatively to create significant improvements in our quality of life.

  • #110678

    Avi Dey

    This is a valuable thought, but needs more details to make it applicable in real situation, where ‘team effort’ is imporant rather than an individual effort as is the chalange for ‘health innovations’ for example.

    Again, we return to ‘team work’, and biggest challange now, is PPP, private public partnership, as is a requirment for Stimulous Package grants, applied, particularly to health innovations, both from a technology perspective, and from ‘social capital” perspective.

    Depending on a person’s technical & social background as well as leadership skills, creativity may have limited usefulness, in the context of absense of knowledge. There is lot of ‘blind leading the blind’ issue that is a challange. “Experts’ springing up who just doesn’t have technical qualifications or leadership skills to make possible “team efforts’. How do you proposed we address these issues in the context of your wonderful defnition, short and specific, but leaves out “economics” as a key elment for example !

    Example ?

    Does this one “sucess model” musician collaboration model be used for ‘health innovation’ chllanges linked to virtual teaming via PPP involving government, non-profits & small tech biz ?

    But an innovation, to grow organically from within, has to be based on an intact tradition, so our idea is to bring together musicians who represent all these traditions, in workshops, festivals, and concerts, to see how we can connect with each other in music.
    Yo-Yo Ma

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