Short Definition of Innovation

It is with mild trepidation that we seek a definition of Innovation.  It is possible to become so locked into the complexities and controversies of this definition, and onwards into what is and is not innovation, that we might become bogged down forever in the semantics.  We should therefore seek something sufficiently generic hopefully to be atraumatic, even though we must sacrifice some precision.

The Oxford Dictionary of English defines innovation as “the action or process of innovating”, and less circularly as “a new method, idea, product, etc”.  The root verb to innovate is to “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products”.  The 16th century origin of the word is from the Latin verb innovare that fuses “into” and “make new”.

Wikipedia offers a deeper insight into the definition of innovation to be (at the time of writing), “the creation of better or more effective products, processes, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments and society”.  Now a review of the evolution of this Wikipedia entry on innovation reveals the underlying polemic over this definition.  Nevertheless, the discussion ventures to address aspects of innovation that are important for organisations where the following definitions are proposed:

  • “[Innovation] is generally understood as the successful introduction of a better thing or method. [It] is the embodiment, combination, or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes, or services.”
  • “Innovation is the multi-stage process whereby organizations transform ideas into improved products, service or processes, in order to advance, compete and differentiate themselves successfully in their marketplace.”[1]
  • “All innovation begins with creative ideas. […] We define innovation as the successful implementation of creative ideas within an organization. In this view, creativity by individuals and teams is a starting point for innovation; the first is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the second”.
  • “Innovation, like many business functions, is a management process that requires specific tools, rules, and discipline.”

It becomes clear that innovation can take many forms according to its context.  It can apply to products and processes.  It can enhance performance or simplify practice.  It can increase value or reduce cost.  It is borne by teams of investigators co-ordinated within large projects or by individuals who might have a good idea.  Innovation thus presents itself as a multi-faceted catch-all term that embraces all things which can be considered to be progress, at least in an economic sense.

Rather than depend on a heuristic set of specific examples to describe what innovation is and explain how it should be done, there is a need before going further to fix a-priori a definition to establish our own perspective.  Such a definition, as sparse and as general as can be delivered as this time, is as follows:-

 INNOVATION  is Making Information Valuable


One might immediately detect a fix.  The incertitude surrounding innovation is being transferred into the doubly intangible terms of Information and Value.  Nevertheless, we have our starting point and a part of what follows is a justification of this somewhat cryptic definition.

With this definition we can associate innovation with two closely related concepts: invention and risk.  Invention, or more broadly discovery, is the creative act that provides an initial idea, at the heart of which is information that at this point of creation has an uncertain value.  This is the initial risk of the invention.

Thomas Edison famously defined genius to be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  The creative act of invention is the 1% component.  Innovation then demands 99% of one’s genius to be dedicated to developing the value of that information of discovery.

Value here can take its classical forms of use-value or exchange-value, the former representing the direct utility of the invention, where the latter provides for an exchange of the invention for other goods that actually are of use.

We will go onto develop this notion of value as we proceed with our discussion on Innovation.


Thomas Alva by Louis Bachrach, Bachrach Studios, restored by Michel Vuijlsteke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One might be forgiven for concluding from the above discussion that independent of its definition, innovation like healthcare is generally welcome.  However, history proves this to be far from the case.  This we will discuss in our next post.



[1] Baregheh A, Rowley J and Sambrook S.(2009) Towards a multidisciplinary definition of innovation, Management decision, vol. 47, no. 8, pp. 1323–1339

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