What Is Innovation?

Over time, the word innovation seems to have become ubiquitous. As a result, innovation has come to mean different things to different people. One area of confusion is the belief that innovation and creativity are synonymous. At Idea Connection Systems®, we see these two activities as complementary, but very distinct. The following are the definitions we use for creativity and innovation:

  • Creativity: the generation of new and/or novel ideas.
  • Innovation: a creative act or solution that results in a quantifiable gain.

The Innovation Continuum

We view the goals of innovation on a continuum, ranging from Revolutionary to Evolutionary.

Revolutionary Ideas

Redefine problems, break boundaries, and create new paradigms. They provide completely new and sometimes disruptive ideas. The first flight and the personal computer are examples of revolutionary ideas. Steve Jobs and Thomas Kuhn are good examples of Revolutionary Innovators.

Expansionary Ideas

Challenge the current problem definitions. They answer the question: “How can we do things differently?” An example is a product line extension, such as Apple introducing its iPhone which uses much of the same technology as other smartphones combined with previous iPod products. The iPhone pulled in new customers and expanded the market. As an Expansionary Innovator, Tom Peters would tell you to continue doing what you are good at.

Evolutionary Ideas

Seek solutions by using existing concepts. They question: “How can we do things better?” These ideas can be very process-driven, such as Lean Six Sigma, which uses the “Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control” (or DMAIC) methodology. William Edward Deming, the father of the quality movement, is an excellent example of an Evolutionary Innovator.

All individuals innovate, and all types of innovators are necessary to successfully sustain innovation.

To make innovation happen, start by answering these three questions:

  1. What does innovation mean to your organization? What quantifiable gains are measured and recognized?
  2. Where do your innovation goals fall on the Innovation Continuum?
  3. Who in your organization prefers working on Revolutionary projects? Expansionary projects? Evolutionary project?

The Human Principles for Sustaining Innovation

Principles of Innovation