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What is Innovation?

What is Innovation?

Innovation is one of those terms that many people use, agree is a positive thing and for the most part want more of. However, the term “innovation” like “leadership” seems to defy a commonly accepted definition. There seems to be no common interpretation of what we mean by innovation (even though there seem to be some common themes). In addition, we seem to lack practices for deliberately and consistently producing “innovation” as an integral part of leadership or leadership behavior.

To some people, innovation is equated with change. But, this tells only one part of the story. Change is happening all the time whether we’re aware of it or not. A random event, insight or an accident may be novel but it is not necessarily an innovation. What we can observe and do in the context of a novel occurrence or insight might very well lead to innovation. For example, all of us have had ‘big ideas’ from time to time and done nothing about them only to learn later that someone has succeeded in bringing about exactly what we had imagined. This is what might distinguish an innovator from perhaps someone better described as a daydreamer.

A more powerful way to think of innovation perhaps is that it means to intentionally ‘bring into existence’ something new that can be sustained and repeated and which has some value or utility. That is, innovation is always related to some practical ‘in-the-world’ value. Innovation is consequently about making new tools, products or processes, bringing forth something ‘new’ which allows human beings to achieve something they were not able to achieve previously.

In a business situation, researchers have identified a variety of types of innovation, including for example:

  • Business Model innovation which involves changing the way business is done in terms of capturing value.
  • Marketing innovation is the development of new marketing methods with improvement in product design or packaging, product promotion or pricing.
  • Organizational innovation involves the creation or alteration of business structures, practices, and models, and may therefore include process, marketing, and people-side model innovation.
  • Process innovation involves the implementation of a new or significantly improved production, operational or delivery methods.
  • Product innovation involves the introduction of a good or service that is new or substantially improved. This might include improvements in functional characteristics, technical abilities, ease of use, or any other dimension.
  • Service innovation is similar to product innovation except that the innovation relates to services rather than to products.
  • Supply chain innovation is where innovations occurs in the sourcing of input products from suppliers and the delivery of output products to customers.

In all of the above areas (and others that we could list), innovation may be small/incremental or large/significant in terms of the change it represents. It may also involve simple change (or have low levels of complexity of innovation) or involve sophisticated change (such as the introduction of a major new technology). In all cases though, (as Einstein observed) it needs a new level of thinking to be applied.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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