Lately the word “innovation” is everywhere – large corporations are building it into their models, young start-ups are basing their entire business model on it, government agencies are using it to be relevant, international not for profits are discussing it for growth and development i.e. organizations across the board are embracing this word and it’s many uses; But what does innovation really mean?
While the study of innovation itself is an evolving field and a wide sphere beyond the scope of any one single blog post, I want to try and focus here on two components- (i) the ‘value’ of innovation and (ii) the ‘process’ of innovation.
Value of innovation: While some would argue that innovation is a value in itself and I agree with that somewhat *with a pinch of salt; From an organizational (whether corporate, start-up or not for profit) perspective, innovation is only of value when it is able to create value.
Value here could entail (i) economic impact/profit viewed from a Schumpeterian perspective or (ii) pragmatic application which benefits organizations or society in a manner that is repeatable. In either case, for innovation to be meaningful it needs to create tangible value, which is more than a singular instance and therefore has some sort of long term sustainable impact. (Journal of Innovation Economics – Bricolage and invisible innovation in public service innovation. Lars Fugslang).
Process of innovation: It is easy to confuse the concept of innovation with concepts such as creativity or invention. Innovation is in fact the underlying developmental process that spurs creativity, invention and idea generation. Anthony, Duncan and Siren in the Harvard Business Review discuss the essential building blocks that would allow a company to facilitate innovation. According to them such a framework would ensure that good ideas are encouraged, identified, shared, reviewed, prioritized, resourced, developed, rewarded, and celebrated. It is this framework consisting of policies, initiatives and strategic planning which in sum constitutes the ‘process’ of innovation, i.e. a conscious and purposeful activity with a clear goal.
The above two concepts at a preliminary level serve to deconstruct what innovation means and a lens to view it, such that it is in fact useful at an organizational level as opposed to viewing innovation as a series of hackathons or disruptive ideation which sounds great but in terms of implementation can leave you clueless.
Innovation is a tool, a framework to use in order to reach certain goals. Its structure and components need to be examined and delineated in order for it to be of any use. ‘Value’ and ‘Process’ provide a starting point to think about that framework.