What is Innovation?

What is Innovation?

Everyone seems to be talking about innovation these days. It is becoming such an overused word that it is starting to lose all meaning. If you search for it, you get 128 million results and many of them focus on how important it is to innovate in your business but few really tell you what that means or how to do it. So, what is innovation?

Well, let's start with a simple definition and then build up to a more descriptive one.

In its simplest form, innovation is "A novel creation that produces value". This definition contains two words that I want to focus on: Novel and Value. I believe these are the basic components of anything we should consider to be innovative. So, let's dig into each one of them and see what they mean.

Novel: "New or unusual in an interesting way"

I really like this word because it is an understated way to describing something that could be subtle or spectacular and all things in between. It does not limit us to only breakthrough or disruptive ideas but instead provides great freedom in our definition of innovation.

Value: "The importance, worth, or usefulness of something"

Useful and providing worth; these are the key parts of value. Things are valued because there is a need or a use for them. The critical piece here is that if your target users don't agree on the importance or usefulness of what you create, then adoption will be minimal and it definitely won't be seen as innovative.

If we were to take the simple definition of innovation ("A novel creation that produces value") and expand on it based on the definitions of the components we might get: "A new or interesting creation that is important or useful".

The problem with this simple definition is that it really focuses only on what innovation is and doesn't really provide any insight into how to achieve it or why you are bothering to try. At the risk of making the definition more complex, let's try to solve for those gaps.

How - Once again, if you search for this you will find more results than you can possibly handle and will likely drown in the information. For now, I am not going to talk about the details of how you innovate, instead, I want to state a high level way to think about it. If we look back at the definition of "novel", we can quickly figure out that it will likely take a creative process to make something new or unusual. The phrase I want to use for this in our expanded definition is "the art of applying creative ingenuity". We chose "art" because there is not really a science to innovation, it really requires more of an artistic flair. "Ingenuity" because it leads us toward being creative or original.

Why - This one is pretty straight forward. We are innovating to solve business problems or create value either internally in our organizations or externally for our customers.

With all of that, let's expand the definition to be:

"Innovation is the art of applying creative ingenuity to either solving business problems or creating material value through a product, service or experience"

While this definition is a bit longer, it keeps the essence of the original while providing a bit more context around the purpose of innovation.

Let me know what you think of this definition. Would you change it? Will it make it easier for you to talk with others about innovation?

In upcoming blog posts, I will talk more about who should be innovating, how to get started, as well as highlighting some of the cool innovations around us.

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