A Simple Definition?

A Simple Definition?

Innovation, Yes, but What is Innovation?

Today's most common working definition of innovation comes from sociologist Everett Rogers' 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations - innovation is an idea or application perceived as new by the individual. Rogers' definition comes out of the work of economist Joseph Schumpeter, who in 1912 posited innovation as the introduction of goods, services or processes either to a new population or for a new application.

This definition is incomplete in terms of how innovation manifests in society and research. In technological terms, innovation is heavily linked to originality. In leadership studies, innovation and creativity are bound together. Others use innovation to discuss improvements in existing structures, products or processes. There is also a vintage/restoration node in some elements of innovation studies. While Rogers & Schumpeter definition may have focused on performative aspects of innovation, today's definitions include substantive and process-driven ideas.

When we consider ethnographer S. Craig Watkins' view of innovation, the trouble of the term becomes more evident: "If there is one word that defines our era it would be innovation. From our heads of state to heads of industry we hear that innovation is the key to a better economy & better future." Innovations are no longer just products or processes; rather we subscribe to an idea of innovators and innovativeness, that a positive character trait is to be innovative even though innovation as we see it is highly relational and contextual.

Simonx Waxman's thoughts on innovation are more nefarious: "The Innovation Agenda consists mainly in doing everything as it has always been done in new configurations and different buildings. TED Talks and Gladwellian theses are increasingly shorthand for intellectual vacuity."

Innovation historian BenoƮt Godin notes that despite the prolific rise of innovation studies in the last century, there is no sufficient definition which encapsulates its use. Other than an assumption of change, the specifics of innovation are wide and disparate across its usage, though government and mass media have focused on a relationship between invention and innovation. Many authors choose to define types of innovation but do not define the term intself. Envisioning innovation thus is left entirely to individuals, resulting in no conceptual space for shared vision.

Interview w/ Benoit Godin

A primer on Godin's research on the history of innovation and its questionable space as failsafe solutionism.

3min

3min