Posted by: MandyS | March 7, 2014

A good definition for innovation…

…well I am not so sure it is good but I thought I would try to bring together the observations of others so that I can at least try to formulate some sort of definition (given the TMA is now looming).

According to the Concise Oxford dictionary ‘innovation’ is:

 bringing in new methods, ideas, etc.; making changes

and ‘new’ is:

 of recent origin or arrival; made, invented, discovered, acquired, or experienced recently or now for the first time.

So innovation appears to cover two situations:

1. where something has not occurred before. To me, this is more akin to invention so would the computer be a good example here? Although based on mechanical binary systems I am struggling to think of anything it might have replaced. Others that occur to me are electricity, the motor car, the television…

2. where something which already exists is altered or used for a different purpose or in a different context. I thought about the internet here, in particular the World Wide Web. We have always had public access to information via libraries but, for me, this is a good example of innovation; by using technology, the same information can be made available world wide at the click of a button.

On that basis, innovation covers a broad spectrum; from rare ingenuity to subtle transformation. It would also appear to be self-perpetuating i.e. innovation leads to innovation e.g. the introduction of electrical mechanisms led to the introduction of computers and technology which in turn has led to changes in the way we access information, communicate with one another and carry out our day-to-day lives, both professionally and socially.

Wikipedia argues that the underlying feature of innovation is the concept of ‘improvement’ i.e. it is ‘better’ than before, whether it be new and original or changed in some way. Interestingly, Wikipedia aims to distinguish innovation from improvement on the basis that it is ‘doing something different’ rather than doing the same thing. At first I struggled with the nuance here but I suppose what is suggested is that something can be improved even though it remains the same e.g. touching up a photograph using Photoshop. Whereas if the same thing is done in a different way, this can lead to innovation e.g. using mobile technology to keep oneself updated whilst on the move as opposed to say reading a newspaper. In that regard, perhaps increased efficiency is also associated with innovation?

Wikipedia further argues that innovation meets a ‘demand or need’. If the aim is to make something better and/or more efficient then it may be that there is a ‘need’ to do so e.g. as a result of cost-cutting exercises of various organisations. However, the ‘need’ may not be immediately obvious and innovation could simply arise as a result of developments over time or societal changes e.g. the introduction of various labour-saving devices in the kitchen (washing machine, dishwasher). Arguably, is it ‘need’ that distinguishes innovation from invention? The motor car wasn’t a ‘necessity’, in fact in the early days it was a luxury, but now it is here, car companies strive for innovative ideas to meet the needs of users e.g. central locking, keyless entry; ‘invention is the creation of the idea, innovation is the better use of that idea.’

So what about my own definition? Based on my analysis, I’ll go with the following:

a new idea, artefact or process or a change in an idea, artefact or process which can result in different, better and/or more efficient ideas, artefacts or processes.



  1. Hi Amanda, some excellent points. I especially liked how you distinguished between innovation and invention. These are often blurred for me so I shall think of your example of the car in future!
    As I mentioned on the forum, I have also been considering innovation as an ATTEMPT to make things better, even though this is not always the outcome.

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