What is Innovation?

There have been many definitions of innovation floating around in the past decade or so. Tech companies use it quite liberally. Every dating site seems to flout it’s innovative new way of meeting people, product companies flout their innovative new features, healthcare companies expouse innovative new approaches to treatment. I cannot undefine what innovation has come to mean for most people and organizations, which is that innovation can mean anything from incremental improvements to replications of best practices or the invention of new products and services.

What I will do is broaden the definition of innovation to be more inclusive, remove invention from the definition since the process of invention is fundamentally different, and introduce a new level of innovation that would more accurately represent a significant advance rather than an incremental one.

First let’s define innovation. My definition of innovation is as follows.

“Innovation is an advance. Competitive Innovation is an advance that provides the innovator with significant competitive advantage as compared to competitors. Innovation is not creation, as creation is invention.” 

So with that definition I hope I was as inclusive as possible of all those organizations and people that currently call themselves innovators. When your company improves something it is innovating, when your company makes modifications or enhancements to products it is innovating, when your company replicates the best practices of another company it is innovating, continuous improvement can be deemed continuous innovation, etc. They are all innovations because the organization is advancing itself.

However Competitive Innovation is not inclusive and very few innovative organizations are Competitive Innovators. It goes beyond an advance. For something to be a Competitive Innovation it must create strong competitive advantage that is not easily copied or replicated and it must be unique in that your organization is the first in it’s market to utilize and benefit from it. The Competitive Innovation is one that innovators seek to replicate and utilize in their own organizations, it is the IPhone, Amazon logistics, Chipotle service, etc. So yes in my definition, most companies are innovators and can continue to call themselves that, however it is pretty clear who the Competitive Innovators are and who is not.

Innovation whether Competitive or not is critical to sustaining an organization. Organizations must always be advancing, improving, enhancing, etc. in order to survive and remain competitive. In the next section we are going to discuss Innovation Elements which are “Units of Advance”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *