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Creativity at Work: What is Innovation?

The Definition of Innovation

What was really clear from the results of the Creativity & Innovation at Work poll is that finding ways to innovate is a high priority for people in business – from creative professionals to CEOs to, well, anyone who wants to excel in their work. Overwhelmingly, people want to know how to become more innovative and they want to find tools and resources that will support the process of innovating.

Coincidentally, Fast Company magazine last week put out a call to its Twitter followers asking them to complete this sentence in a six-second Vine video clip:

Innovation is ________________.

Here’s what Fast Company followers had to say:

Innovation is change in the midst of complacency.

Innovation is taking risks.

Innovation is a way of life. It’s hard, but it’s also super fun, but most importantly, it’s the only way to live.

Innovation is embracing change, instead of running away from it.

Here’s mine:

Innovation is: hard work + endless curiosity + happy mistakes.

So, what is innovation really?

Well, it’s all the above for sure – and more. But the core idea behind innovation, the one you’ll see again and again if you research innovation is well represented by this definition from the Australian government’s website of all places:

Innovation generally refers to renewing, changing or creating more effective processes, products or ways of doing things.

Inherent in this definition (in the phrase “more effective”) is also the idea that innovation adds value.

A digital marketing firm called Fresh Consulting also wanted to define innovation for its customers. The team at Fresh did their own research and, like me, discovered that there are countless definitions of innovation. In a blog post titled, What is Innovation? 30+ definitions lead to one fresh summary, Fresh Consulting founder, Jeff Dance, writes:

“After reviewing dozens of definitions from a diverse set of sources, I propose a consensus on a simple definition…as a basis for future conversations about Innovation.”

He goes on to say that based on the definitions he uncovered, “something new” is simply NOT an adequate definition for innovation; that the something new “must create value to be innovation.”

For those of you as interested in innovation as I am, I strongly recommend reading Dance’s blog post. The definitions he’s gathered are interesting on their own, but most importantly, he shows readers how he culled them down into a single statement that really gets to the heart of what, I think, innovation is.

I believe that knowing and understanding the definition of innovation is the critical first step in actually innovating. The definitions themselves hold clues to the “how” of innovation, even where to start. We’ll get way deep into the how-to in weeks to come, but for now, tell me this:

Do you agree that innovation is a new idea, thing, product, process, etc., that creates value?

Do you believe that “creates value” has to be there for whatever it is to be an innovation?

In short: What’s YOUR definition of innovation?

To innovating the definition of innovation,

Susan B.