25 Definitions of Innovation

By: Hutch Carpenter | September 23, 2010

In a recent blog post proposing a definition of innovation, I noted that innovation means different things to different people. It ultimately is what you think it is. What’s a useful definition for you won’t work for others, and vice versa.

I asked for people’s definitions on several LinkedIn groups, and the community came forward with many interesting and valuable perspectives. For me, the value of this was two-fold:

  • Challenge my own perceptions of innovation and expand my horizons
  • Understand the different ways people talk about innovation

I went through the many great comments, and pulled out 25 definitions of innovation. I put together a simple map according to their similar characteristics:

The five themes for the definitions are illustrative of the major patterns of thought in innovation. The definitions are presented below.You’ll notice a hash tag (#) after each one. The hash tag is a link to each individual definition, so you can reference a specific one if you’d like.

Business Model

This is the sense of innovation in the broader context of companies and markets. Innovation’s meaning here is to alter the landscape.

Ray Meads A patentable solution (external verified uniqueness) with a differentiated business model that changes the basis of business for that specific industry sector. #
Julia Fischer Baumgartner My definition of radical innovation: a new product, process, or system that replaces its accepted predecessor and renders it obsolete. #
avigail berg Reorganize the particles with new added components that shift the value to new business opportunities. #

Applied Invention

Invention is the creation of something new. In American pop culture, think Thomas Edison, always inventing, inventing, inventing. It’s when an invention becomes useful to others that it becomes an innovation. Jatin H. DeSai Creativity is when you use money to get ideas. Innovation is when you use ideas to make money. #
Thomas Mathiasen Innovation: what is New, Useful and Applied. #
Braden Kelley Innovation transforms the useful seeds of invention into solutions valued above every existing alternative. #
Harry Vardis Ideas that pass through the business model and meet with acceptance by the end users. #
Peter Balbus Ideation is applied knowledge; creativity is applied ideation; invention is applied creativity; and innovation is the successful commercialization or adoption of radical invention. #
Barry Bassnett Creativity is what happens when imagination has focus; innovation is what happens when creativity has a bottom line; enterprise is what happens when innovation meets ability, entrepreneurship is what happens when all the aforementioned are put on the same cart and passion becomes the fuel. #

Creativity

The internal spring of innovation: creativity. This sense of innovation reflects our personal, individual roles in it. Edson Menezes Innovation can be a thin line connecting the intuitive, the rational and the market: the gift, the servant and the server. #
Robert Bastarache Value + Creativity + Execution = Innovation. #
Lars Christensen Innovation is to dare to challenge mainstream thinking and behaviour pattern. #
Robert Jacobson Innovation is seeing things differently. Implementing innovation is getting others to, also. #
Umesh Kumar Aherwal For me it’s much of artistic way of utilizing available resources within the parameters. The word “artistic way” is stands for the well balanced or proportioned, which requires creative thinking. #

Problem-Solving

In this meaning of innovation, the focus is on addressing issues and challenges. The existing mode of operation has issues, and a new approach is needed. Madhusudan Rao Finding Newer & Better bottles to recycle the old wine. End objective remains the same but you want to achieve it in a better way. #
Kurt Nahikian Innovation results when a new approach is applied to an old problem that makes lasting and far-reaching changes in behavior. #
Bill Flynn Innovation is the creation of solutions to problems that have opposing requirements. #

Unmet User Needs

This is a classic approach to innovation. It’s very much along the lines of Clayton Christensen’s “job to be done”. The term here is “users”, as the unmet needs may be for customers as well as other people in a system or value chain. Mike Dalton The organization-wide process of finding and profitably serving unmet market needs. #
A Michele Davies The creation of new products or services which provide value to my marketplace in one form or another, and which use my existing resources. #
Uday Pasricha Something is innovative when it creates a tangible added value for both user/developer; using existing, wasted or yet unnoticed resources. #
Hans Haringa Innovation: ‘something’ used by ‘some’ but opposed by ‘many’ but over time accepted by all. #
Ellen Weber PhD An invention or intervention – that shows evidence of a valued solution, garners support of decision makers, and offers mutual benefits for a wider community – by drawing insights from diverse people across several related fields. #
Saker Ghani I like the definition used by professors Christian Terwiesch and Karl T. Ulrich in their book, Innovation Tournaments: “A new match between a need and a solution”. #
Dick Lee Delivering exceptional to the most important customer in the value chain, all the time, every time. #
Hutch Carpenter A change in a product offering, service, business model or operations which meaningfully improves the experience of a large number of stakeholders. #