What is Innovation?

I am inspired by the notion of innovation and for me it is synonymous with the entrepreneurial journey, and all the excitement, learning, and challenges those journeys bring. However, as we see the innovation tag becoming every more broadly applied I think it is interesting to try and understand what innovation actually is, especially for those of us aspiring to be truly innovative.

Look up a dictionary and you will typically see that innovation means to introduce something new but innovation actually comes from a latin word, innovare, meaning ‘to change’ and it is this latter definition that resonates most strongly with me.

For me the defining characteristic of innovation is challenging the status quo and in so doing impacting society for the better. Innovation is civilised anarchy, disrupting convention, changing what is and, most importantly, creating what will be. In this way it is inherently reliant on people with the passion, motivation and skills to conceive and execute on bold and audacious visions of the world as they imagine it. In a world that is facing the significant impacts of human civilisation it is reassuring that all of us are capable, and responsible, for imagining and creating a better world than when we first got here.

Inherent to this definition is the need for change to happen on a broad scale and for this reason I believe that innovation stands apart from research, discovery and invention in requiring an organisation dedicated to that singular pursuit. Organisations provide a legal and organisational vehicle for pursuing innovation that transcends the individuals involved and provides a focal point for activities. Together this hopefully provides an environment in which innovation can be significantly more impactful and longer lasting. It is worth emphasising that an organisation does not have to be financially motivated and can encompass for-profit companies as well as non-profit, non-governmental and a plethora of other entities and organisation types.

Condensing the two previous paragraphs, innovation is simply passionate people, working collectively to change the world.

With this broad definition in mind I would like to challenge the increasingly entrenched belief that technical innovation is innovation more broadly. As a deeply technical person myself I firmly believe that technical innovation is capable of challenging the status quo and affecting broad societal change. However, that belief belittles the significant contribution of other disciplines to our society and undermines the creation of an inclusive innovation culture. It doesn’t take long to realise that a world with only technical innovation is perversely dystopian, and that innovation in health, service delivery, arts, and the creative sector (just to name a few domains) creates significant impact and is therefore just as worthy of the innovation tag.

And after all is said and done perhaps all of this is simply academic. While people are arguing about the definition of innovation and trying to understand if they are an entrepreneur or intrapreneur there are people all over the world just getting on with the job of challenging convention, dreaming audaciously, and making the world a better place – I hope you count yourselves amongst them.

photo credit: Casey Fyfe via unsplash.com

One Response to “ What is Innovation? ”

  1. Well said! My favourite innovations include TED, Kiva, crowdfunding, Airbnb… anything that involves a new way of thinking, connecting :)

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