A Short Definition of Innovation

Date: April 23, 2013

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines innovation as “the action or process of innovating”, and less circularly as “a new method, idea, product, etc”.  The root verb to innovate is to “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products”.  The 16th century origin of the word is from the Latin verb innovare that fuses “into” and “make new”.

The website Wikipedia offers a deeper insight into the definition of innovation to be (at the time of writing), the creation of better or more effective products, processes, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments and society” .  Now a review of the evolution of this Wikipedia entry on innovation reveals a considerable polemic on what innovation is and what it is not.  Furthermore, the subject ventures to address aspects of innovation that are important for organisations where the following definitions are presented:

  • ”[Innovation] is generally understood as the successful introduction of a better thing or method. [It] is the embodiment, combination, or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes, or services.”
  • “Innovation is the multi-stage process whereby organizations transform ideas into improved products, service or processes, in order to advance, compete and differentiate themselves successfully in their marketplace.”
  • “All innovation begins with creative ideas. […] We define innovation as the successful implementation of creative ideas within an organization. In this view, creativity by individuals and teams is a starting point for innovation; the first is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the second”.
  • “Innovation, like many business functions, is a management process that requires specific tools, rules, and discipline.”

It becomes clear that innovation can take many forms according to its context.  It can apply to products and processes.  It can enhance performance or simplify practice.  It can increase value or reduce cost.  It is borne by teams of investigators co-ordinated within large projects or by individuals who might have a good idea.  Innovation thus presents itself as a multi-faceted catch-all term that embraces all things which can be considered to be progress, at least in an economic sense.

Rather than depend on a heuristic set of specific examples to describe what innovation is and explain how it should be done, there is a need before going further to fix a-priori a definition to provide some firm grip on this thing which we will examine.  Such a definition, as sparse and as general as can be delivered as this time, is as follows:-

INNOVATION:  is Making Information Valuable

One might immediately detect a fix.  The incertitude surrounding innovation is being transferred into the doubly intangible terms of Information and Value.  Nevertheless, we have our starting point and a large part of what follows is a justification of this somewhat cryptic definition.

With this definition we should associate innovation with its two close relations: invention and risk.  Invention, or more broadly discovery, is the creative act that provides an initial idea, which is the information and which may or may not have value.  This is the initial risk of the invention.  Thomas Edison famously defined genius to be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  The creative act of invention is the 1% component.  Innovation then demands 99% of one’s genius to be dedicated to developing the value of that information of discovery.  Value here can take its classical forms of use-value or exchange-value, the former representing the direct utility of the invention, where the latter provides for an exchange of the invention for other goods that actually are of use.

We will go onto develop a more quantitative and phenomenological notion of value as we proceed to discuss innovation on this forum.

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