In a field centered around fresh, outside-the-box thinking, it is no wonder that there is such a broad range of definitions for the term innovation. Creating a clear-cut definition for the term is critical in shaping the culture of innovation at your organization and will help you determine which resources to allocate to your program.

Let’s take a look at a few innovation definitions, and what those definitions imply.

Innovation = Novelty

This concept of innovation asserts that the introduction of a new product or process equals innovation. But does the true definition of innovation stop here? Novelty may be the main ingredient for innovation but it is not the entire recipe. An expanded view of innovation focuses on the user’s perception of new products/services as the marker for innovation success. A dazzling product that holds no value for its audience is not innovative — it’s distractive.

Innovation = Mindset

  • [Innovation is] a mindset in your business; your employees are always focused on continuous improvement and constantly thinking outside of the box”BDC

In this definition, innovation is defined in terms of a company’s ability to cultivate the inventiveness of their employee base.  Those that equate innovation to novelty might employ innovation programs as a means to an end. A mindset approach, however, encourages employees to stay curiously creative and posits that what begins in the mind will organically manifest into cutting-edge products and services.

Innovation = Process improvement

  • “Innovation means changing processes or creating more effective processes, products and ideas.” – Australian Government

For some, true innovation is the magic of refining business processes. Innovative business processes even on the highest level can trickle down to the customer with radical shifts in service capacity, convenience, and overall value.

Innovation = Competitive Advantage

  • “Innovation is the key to competitive advantage for your business.” – Australian Government

Defining innovation in terms of the competition focuses major attention toward being on par with or superior to others in the same industry. Here, innovation becomes a tool in the battle to stay on top. This outlook has the potential to stunt business growth because even if the competition serves a similar audience, their customer base is not an exact replica.  Attempts at innovation by comparison — without your specific customer in mind — may miss the mark.

Innovation = Market response

  • [Innovation is] responding to change in a creative way.”BDC

This definition of innovation can be thought of as a two-way conversation with the market. It requires an intimate knowledge of your customer base as well as a solid infrastructure to respond your market’s fluctuations. Innovation can be thought of in terms of a company’s pliancy with their offerings — how well they can respond to real-time demands of customers’ ever-changing needs.

My personal definition

  • Significant, positive change

In other words, innovation is a creative solution that turns pain points into non-factors. The change could be to a process or product, and the idea could originate from your employee base, customers, or experts in your field. Since change is inevitable, companies should infuse innovation into their company culture and set up proper tools to manage their bounty of ideas.

If you want to see our personal stash of favorite innovation definitions, download IdeaScale’s infographic here.

By Rob Hoehn

About the author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.