What is innovation?

What is innovation?

Understanding how to positively drive innovation, whether at the organizational, city, national, regional or global levels, remains an elusive goal. Specific initiatives can be difficult to articulate because our concepts of what is innovation and how it can be measured are continuing to evolve over time.

For example, as noted by authors of the Global Innovation Index, the evolution of what constitutes innovation can be discerned in subsequent versions of the Oslo Manual, which guides statisticians in their attempts to measure innovation. In 1992 and 1997, the Manual focused exclusively on technological innovations, covering only products and processes. In 1997, coverage was extended from manufacturing to services. In 2005, the ‘technological’ qualifier for innovation was eliminated, innovation in methods was added, and for the first time, innovation in the public sector was mentioned as an area needing further study. This was reinforced in 2010 when the OECD Ministerial Report on Innovation Strategy suggested that statisticians should attempt to measure public sector innovation as well as innovation for social goals (now more commonly referred to as “social innovation”). This history suggests that our concepts of what innovation is will continue to evolve in the coming years.

For those looking for a broadly accepted formal definition of innovation, what we have for now is the definition in the OECD/Eurostat Oslo Manual: Guidelines for Collecting and Interpreting Innovation Data (2005).

“An innovation is the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organization or external relations.”

Perhaps a much more useful definition comes from Seth Godin emphasizing the evolutionary error-path prone nature of innovation:

“Failure over and over again until you find success”

The bottom line is that defining exactly what innovation is, measuring it and measuring impact remains a “work in progress”.