So, What is Innovation?

The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.

To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need.


Read this article, What is Innovation? 30+ definitions lead to one fresh summary, for many more definitions of innovation.

So, if we need to innovate, if we need to build a culture of innovation, if we need to practice perpetual, continual innovation, where everyone’s job is to be thinking about innovation and creating innovations, then what are we talking about?

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Creativity and innovation are related, but different. Consider the classic diffusion of innovation. It takes “creativity” to come up with something new. Such creative people are the “innovators.” But then, people who grasp the possibility, and implement an innovation that someone else may have come up with are the “early adopters.”

Some innovations are are not worth adopting.

Some people who wait to see if an innovation will “take” might wait too long.

In other words, you can be too fast (it may not take), or too slow (you are left behind).

Innovations are sometimes new, disruptive technologies. Sometimes, they are tweaks and improvements. And sometimes, they are near-genius “combinations” (“combinatorial”). In the book The Second Machine Age, the authors identify three characteristics of this second machine age: exponential, digital, and combinatorial. Here’s a little more, from this book:

 …An innovation-as-building-block view of the world, where both the knowledge pieces and the seed ideas can be combined and recombined over time.

The best way to accelerate progress is to increase our capacity to test out new combinations of ideas. One excellent way to do this is to involve more people in this testing process, and digital technologies are making it possible for ever more people to participate.

Today’s digital environment, in short, is a playground for large-scale recombination.

‘Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.’ 
‘With more eyeballs, more powerful combinations will be found.’

This phenomenon goes by several names, including ‘open innovation’ and ‘crowdsourcing,’ and it can be remarkably effective.

So… here are some possible thought pursuits.

If what you are doing is working perfectly, and cannot be improved upon, and people pay you for this product or service, and will continue to do so, then, by all means, just keep at it the very way you are doing it. If this is the case, you don’t need to be innovative.

But, be warned – it can really work well for a very long time, and then when a “disruptive” innovation comes along, it can threaten you all at once, catching you absolutely unaware.

To see the threat and implement the innovation yourself while you are successful in the soon-to-be-old-way takes a special kind of genius.

Kodak was a great innovative company – until they missed the digital camera juggernaut.

But… (one of my favorite stories from the past), Mr. William Paley, Chairman of the Board of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), “owned the world” in the days of radio. He had been impressively innovative. But, even before television systems were fully in place, while making a lot of money in radio, Mr. Paley saw that television was next, and would be unstoppable. His fellow board members were not on board, but he pushed through the shift to television, and then…CBS dominated in the first decades of television success.

So, what is innovation? Maybe it is something like this:

Doing what will be successful next
Early enough to make a very big difference
In a way that people will want, and pay for
And making it fully available..

So, what is a culture of innovation?

Making this process repeatable, continually…

Here’s what I know: If what you are doing is not working, well… it is (past) time for a change.

If what you are doing is working, it might be threatened by an innovation. Pursue just such an innovation yourself.

Randy Mayeux
Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

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