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What does it mean to innovate?

I thought I knew the answer to this one. Easy. In my sleep. But actually, I had the pleasure of getting into a really engaging discussion on this last night. One of those rare adult conversations where your brain is thinking and excited (as opposed to the usual mundane ones of car repairs, car-pools and what to eat for dinner).

Okay, let me back up …. I got in late last night. I put in my full-day at the office, then drove to meet my husband at the garage so he could leave his vehicle there, and then went over to my grandmother’s to say hello and help with an errand that was important to her. But as I walked in the door around 9pm, I could see my husband sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of red wine in his hand. He looked at me and his face said, “This is going to make you happy.” I stepped in a bit further into the house and I could see that, across the table from him, my brother Adam had come home for the holidays. Hubby was right, that really did make me happy.

So I got into my jammies and joined them for a glass of Australian red and we started to catch up. Hubby was asking him about his course work this year. But since he’s a PhD candidate now, he doesn’t really do course work. He told us that he did do a workshop series on innovation though.

The workshop was kicked off over a weekend. It was a room full of scientists and other academics, gathered to learn about innovation. My initial reaction was to think that it was a session to help people break from their regular thought patterns or other such activities that would spark the creation of new ideas.

But what they were actually doing was something entirely different. The people gathered in the room come up with ideas everyday. Idea generation is simply not something they need help with. The topic of discussion was more around how to take an idea and bring it to market.

This jarred for me. I started to debate that bringing something to market is a repeatable process that a marketing specialist can do — it did not seem to fall into my mind’s version of “innovation.” Our debate went on and on for a while and then I did the inevitable: I brought out my dog-earred copy of the Oxford dictionary. And it told me that “innovate” meant creative thinking or to effect a change.

And that’s when it hit me. Sure, you can have a cool idea … but if it goes nowhere, then it cannot create change. A change is required for something to be an innovation.

Huh. I really had never thought of innovation this way before. The online Business Dictionary clearly had though. I looked up the definition today and it reads (emphasis is mine):

Process by which an idea or invention is translated into a good or service for which people will pay. To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination, and initiative in deriving greater or different value from resources, and encompasses all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products.

So, I learned a new thing last night: Invention does not equal innovation. Or, if you are a geek, here is a special version just for you: invention ∈ innovation. (Apparently, this means that invention is a subset of innovation.)

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Comments

  1. What a great conversation. These are the types of conversations I have at work and are the ones that reinforce why I do what I do. Thoughts on how to take science and technology to market in a relevant and meaningful manner. And over wine…even better.

  2. this brought a little bit of tears to my eyes – not about the conversation – but just wishing i was having it with you guys! i miss you. xoxo

  3. this brought a little bit of tears to my eyes – not about the conversation – but just wishing i was having it with you guys! i miss you. xoxo

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