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Why Define Innovation?

By john on May 12, 2017 in Innovation

In a series of posts I’m going to provide a practical and useful definition of Innovation.  This is an attempt to define,  not how to do innovation.  There are lots of how to do processes and guidelines available.  Rather, this is an effort to define the word itself.  I think it is important to define words that are in common usage especially when these words have various meanings.  Innovation is one such word; a multi-level word, if you will.  Multi-level words often depend on the context in which they are used for definition.  Many use the word innovation but I’m not sure that they clearly state what they mean by innovation.

To be clear, innovation or innovator refer to a person or organization engaged in the practice of innovation.  End user or customer , used interchangeable, refer to a person or organization engaged in the use of an innovation.

Why define Innovation?

The word Innovation is commonly used.  So words get “over used”.  They get “worn out” and “boring”. They used to mean something but now what do they mean? Words can manipulate and I for one try to resist word manipulation as best as I can. Finding or going back to original meaning is a good way to resist manipulation.Words have meanings and understanding the meanings is a crucial element of effective communication. Some words, like innovation, have many levels of meaning so a definition can be helpful.

Not to be cynical (maybe just a little): follow the money.  Following the money is always a good idea. If you claim and people believe that a product is “innovative” it might generate lots of sales producing lots of money.  It is a tough gig to be in the business of designing, manufacturing, marketing and selling products, any advantage in the marketplace is worth money.  Finally, I just might be a word fanatic (this is actually true) who likes to know what words mean when they are read/spoken. 

How will we get to my definition? Since this is not a philosophical document, but rather a practical and empirical document, we will proceed backwards. I’m going to start with my expertise – tangible products – and work back to some set of ” guidelines”.  Sometimes the journey from the specific to a set of  guidelines is the best way to go.  These are not “laws” like the laws of nature but more like suggestions  for recognizing “innovation”. 

Guidelines, as I view them, are not set in concrete but rather suggest how things might be.  Guidelines have mushy boundaries and application.  These guidelines are going to be open to discussion and comment.  While not precise, guidelines do provide some structure to a topic.  If properly applied (whatever that means) in the hands of a skilled practitioner (my readers) they can begin sorting out reality into useful categories.  Guidelines represent my attempt to explain, perhaps define, a complex and many faceted word.  I believe that guidelines are an improvement, IMO, in the current state of definition of “innovation”.

Since I know how these post are going to play out, I hope that I add clarity and not increase the “confusion”. You might be happy with your definition of “innovation” but I hope I can at least get you to consider my point of view.

I’m going to start by asking a question.

Did You Buy Some Innovation Today?

To start, I’m asking a favor.  Please consider the most recent technologically related item that you purchased.  I’m starting with technologically oriented items because, these sorts of items are often touted as “innovative.” A cell phone; a tablet; a laptop computer or a digital watch, for example.  Why did you purchase this particular product rather a similar product? I’m sure there were lots of choices available.  Some of the potential reasons:

♦ the brand ♦ product reviews ♦ an impulse buy
♦ the features ♦ as a present ♦ it was so cool
♦ everybody is buying it ♦ as a status symbol ♦ state of the art

You may have a reason not listed or it may have been several commingled reasons. Just wondering, but maybe it might “useful” to try to sort out why you bought the item you purchased.

The next post addresses the fascinating question:

Hey buddy, want to buy a watch?

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