Defining Innovation

Here’s another favourite question to ask when I meet innovation leaders: What is your definition of Innovation? Take a minute and think of yours before you read on.

It’s such a simple and obvious question, but it can be quite revealing about ambitions, alignment, focus and beliefs. There are no right or wrong answers – although sometimes I have to admit there can be disagreements and opportunities to redefine our definition of innovation when we reveal them, especially as our priorities, focus and paradigms change. I know mine has changed over time and will continue to do so as context is so often the key to what I consider innovation to be.

Working with so many different organisations and people I have a somewhat holistic definition:

“Innovation is the process of handling new things that deliver value, through discovery, invention and creativity which results in changes that range from incremental to breakthrough”.

Like all definitions it’s not perfect, and can/will be revised over time. Please feel free to add your definitions to this post (it would be great to read/share and develop).

The key point for me, however, is that innovation isn’t just about big breakthroughs or blue oceans. Nor is it just about continuous improvement or incremental changes. It’s about a balance of all of these things that are appropriate in your context over time.

It’s so easy to over-focus on one and miss the value of the other, because of something as simple as “It doesn’t fall into my definition of innovation”. It could be that it is someone else’s remit – which is fine and proper. My point is, don’t miss the value because it’s not in your definition of what constitutes innovation.  You may have missed a great opportunity to deliver value to your innovation initiative or overlooked how innovation can be direct and applicable to your business needs to demonstrate ROI and the improvements you need to achieve.

People tend to confuse

People tend to confuse innovation and creativity. I come across lots of creative companies that are not innovative. For us "innovation (in a business setting) is the commercial exploitation of ideas." Creativity on the other hand is the process of generating ideas. Analogy we use is that creativity is the wheels on a car spinning whereas Innovation is moving the car forward. Have a look at Andy Bruce's book "Fast Track to Success - Innovation" or at for his ideas.

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