Innovation can be defined as “a development of knowledge or techniques for the improvement of a product or a process”. This definition was introduced by Peter Atkins and is used by most economists. Innovation is most commonly defined as the “taking forward of similar existing products, or even of different ones, in some new ways…to achieve a higher standard of efficiency, productivity or performance”. These new combinations may result in the production of better products, new processes or new methods. Innovation can be regarded as the process of progress toward the progress of man’s greatest achievements, to the exclusion of his mistakes.

The essence of Innovation is to create value which has not been previously produced or to develop something which has been previously invented but is still new. Thus, it is necessary to capture value in addition to innovation. For example, there might be an improvement in the manufacturing process for automobiles, and another improvement in the manufacturing process for solar panels, both of which will have some positive effect on automobiles, but which are not themselves innovations (since they are merely improvements on already existing products).

The essence of Innovation is also related to the definition given by Peter Atkins, who defines it as: “A progressive modification of an existing procedure or equipment, so as to produce a new result of some distinctive and important kind”. Also, G.E. engineer W.E. Edison is often credited with having defined Innovation, when he was given the honor of inventing the light bulb, instead of theoscope, as an illustration of how an invention makes possible the different kinds of results desired.

As with every other activity, Innovation must be cultivated and nurtured internally as well as externally. This is where a few senior managers can really make innovation a part of the strategy, and where innovation becomes more than an idea floating around in the office. In organizations, where senior management often acts as de facto visionaries and policy makers, it is useful for them to articulate a vision and set the wheels in motion for the organization to move in that direction. However, in the absence of senior management, it may be necessary to resort to more indirect and “back-to -the -earth” methods in order to stimulate innovation within the organization. The “third way” that Atkins refers to, for example, is through encouraging talented people to come forward with their ideas, and then helping them find funding in order to bring their ideas to the public.

In this regard, perhaps nothing is more revealing about how we should define innovation than an interesting example from Michael Gerber’s book, Backwired: How Thinking About Innovation transformed Corporate Power, into a Whole New Ball Game. Consider, if you will, Gerber’s definition of innovation, which is as follows: “A new product, new technique, or new system developed from existing procedures”. What is interesting about this is that Gerber has included not only products and new processes, but also “processes, methods, and strategies” as well. Now take away the word “products” and what do you have left? No innovative product or process is truly complete without its accompanying marketing or promotional strategies.

It therefore makes sense to think of innovation not so much as a sudden “something new” happening within an organization, but as a series of small incremental improvements to existing processes and products over time. The essence of disruptive innovation is to strike out from the established routine, to shake up established views and to create a new market position, often very quickly. Is the goal of having something new, or of having something better, faster, cheaper, and better? Of course, the ultimate goal of any business is to make money, but this money can only be made when there is room in the business for the additional items that are being offered. This is one reason that smaller businesses tend to be more flexible, innovative, and risk-taking than their larger counterparts.

By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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