What is Innovation? - Spring2 Innovation

What is Innovation?

August 10, 2012

These days it appears to be the biggest buzz word where anything can be innovative; from electronics to sales people to mops.  The definition is ambiguous based on these examples.Articles on this site have touched on different types of innovation and how people can be more innovative without specifically spending time on what innovation is.

Definition of Innovation:

  • The definition I like best:  Doing things differently that result in a positive economic impact. In other words, Innovation involves taking ideas and making them either commercially viable or generating value for the organization that impacts the organization positively.
  • Innovation is a change in the way things are being done (in your organization, in the industry, or in the world).
  • Innovation can be a change to a process, service, product, culture, or anything else.
  • Taking advantage of new opportunities – through market insights and taking changes in trends and consumer needs into account.
  • There is also a timeline on innovation. Once the innovation is adopted by many and becomes ubiquitous it is no longer innovative. For example, WiFi was innovative when it first came out and now has been widely adopted and is common place.


Innovation involves:

  • Experimentation
  • Willingness to take risks and fail
  • Bringing in creativity
  • Building on top of ideas
  • Exposure to different ideas, places, people
  • Networking
  • Champions to move ideas forward
  • And more….

Steve Jobs is considered to have been innovative because of the changes he made in computing, communications, music, user experience, and computer animation industries. He turned something unvalued – like the exterior of a PC – into something esthetically pleasing which others than emulated.  He made PCs user friendly by creating well-designed GUIs and integrating software applications in ways that people found useful. He replaced phones with portable minicomputers. He changed the way music was purchased –  by song on iTunes rather than the entire album.  Are these still innovative today? The concept of integrated software applications is still a differentiator for Apple as well as the pricing model for their hardware/software combination – pay more for the hardware but the software is included or available at a much lower price.

There are many more examples of people and companies that have been innovative recently. One area that has been booming is the social media space. Social media is a completely new industry that caught fire through the introduction of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.   Pinterest is the latest application to join this trend. For those unfamiliar with Pinterest, it is essentially Twitter but with images rather than words. When Pinterest came out it was also considered innovative even though you can see the idea was sparked by twitter. It changed the way things were previously done – users now have a place for displaying and finding visually rich content.

Not long ago, in the IT and Software industries, when software as a service (SAAS) and managed services first came out they were innovative because no one else was doing them.  Everybody wanted to host their own services on their own hardware.  Now more and more services are being hosted by providers such as Amazon, Google, Apple and others.  Companies like Halogen Software are even providing hosted HR tools now, where you can perform your annual review online, hosted on a server farm somewhere on the internet.

What is your definition of innovation?