Innovation: Concept and Features

05/06/2020 1 By indiafreenotes

Innovation in its modern meaning is “a new idea, creative thoughts, new imaginations in form of device or method”. Innovation is often also viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. Such innovation takes place through the provision of more-effective products, processes, services, technologies, or business models that are made available to markets, governments and society. An innovation is something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society. Innovation is related to, but not the same as, invention, as innovation is more apt to involve the practical implementation of an invention (ie new / improved ability) to make a meaningful impact in the market or society, and not all innovations require an invention. Innovation often manifests itself via the engineering process, when the problem being solved is of a technical or scientific nature. The opposite of innovation is exnovation.

While a novel device is often described as an innovation, in economics, management science, and other fields of practice and analysis, innovation is generally considered to be the result of a process that brings together various novel ideas in such a way that they affect society. In industrial economics, innovations are created and found empirically from services to meet growing consumer demand.

Innovation also has an older historical meaning which is quite different. From the 1400s through the 1600s, prior to early American settlement, the concept of “innovation” was pejorative. It was an early modern synonym for rebellion, revolt and heresy.

Features of Innovation

  1. Unique and Relevant Strategy

Arguably, the most defining characteristic of a truly innovative company is having a unique and relevant strategy. We all know what companies like Apple, Facebook and Google do. That’s because they make their strategies clear and relentless follow them. An innovative smaller player may not be recognised globally, but its leaders, employees, business partners and customers all will have a clear idea of the company’s strategy. If a business does not have definable, unique strategy, it will not be innovative. Bland strategies, such as “to be the best”, do not provide a path to innovation in the same way clearer strategies, such as “to be on the cutting edge of mobile communications technology,” “to build the world’s safest cars”or “to deliver anything anywhere” do. If your strategy is vague or fails to differentiate your company from the competition, you should change this situation as quickly as possible!

  1. Innovation Is a Means to Achieve Strategic Goals

Highly innovative companies do not see innovation as an end, but rather as a means to achieving strategic goals. Just as a good camera is an essential tool that enables the photographer to take professional images and the saw is an essential tool for the carpenter, innovation is an essential tool for visionary companies intent on achieving their strategic goals. Indeed, if you look at the web sites of the world’s most innovative companies, they tend not to trumpet innovation, but rather corporate vision.

  1. Innovators Are Leaders

The one thing innovation provides more than anything else is market leadership. When companies use innovation to achieve strategic goals, they inevitably take the lead in their markets. Unfortunately, this does not always translate to being the most successful or profitable. Amazon has been an innovator from the beginning, setting many of the standards for e-commerce. Nevertheless, it took some years for the company to become profitable. Cord was one of the world’s most innovative car companies, launching cutting edge innovations such as front wheel drive and pop-up headlights in the 1920s and 30s. However the company was never very successful financially and went out of business in 1938. On the other hand, innovators like Apple and Google have been financially successful as a result of their innovation. In short, innovators are leaders, but not always profitable leaders!

  1. Innovators Implement

Most businesses have a lot of creative employees with a lot of ideas. Some of those ideas are even relevant to companies’ needs. However, one thing that differentiates innovators from wannabe innovators is that innovators implement ideas. Less innovative companies talk more about ideas than implementing them!

  1. Failure Is an Option

I would argue the the most critical element of business culture, for an innovative company, is giving employees freedom and encouragement to fail. If employees know that they can fail without endangering their careers, they are more willing to take on risky, innovative projects that offer huge potential rewards to their companies. On the other hand, if employees believe that being part of a failed project will have professional consequences, they will avoid risk – and hence innovation – like the plague. More importantly, if senior managers reward early failure, employees are far more likely to evaluate projects regularly and kill those projects that are failing before that failure becomes too expensive. This frees up resources and budget for new innovative endeavours. However, in businesses where failure is not an option, employees will often stick with failing projects, investing ever more resources in hopes that the project will eventually succeed. When it does not, losses are greater and reputations are ruined. As a result, companies that reward failure often fail less than those that discourage it.

  1. Environment of Trust

The Innovative company provides its employees with an environment of trust. There is a lot of risk involved in innovation. Highly creative ideas often initially sound stupid. If employees fear ridicule for sharing outrageous ideas, they will not share such ideas. Likewise, if employees fear reprimand for participating in unsuccessful projects, they will not participate (see item 5 above). If employees do not trust each other, they will be watching their backs all the time. If they fear managers will steal their ideas and claim them as their own, employees will not share ideas. On the other hand, if employees know they can take reasonable risks without fear, if they know outrageous ideas are welcome, if they know that their managers will champion their ideas and credit them for those ideas, these employees can be creative, implement ideas and drive the company’s innovation. In short, creativity and innovation thrive when people in an organization trust each other and their organization.

  1. Autonomy

Along with trust, individual and team autonomy is a key component of innovation. If you give individuals and teams clear goals together with the freedom to find their own paths for achieving those goals, you create fertile ground for innovation. But, if managers watch over their subordinates’ shoulders, micro-managing their every move, you stifle the creativity and individual thought that is necessary for innovation. Of course giving employees autonomy means they may make mistakes. They may choose inefficient routes to achieving goals. But at worst, they will learn from their mistakes and inefficiencies. At best, they will discover new and better ways of accomplishing objectives. Most importantly, if you hire intelligent, capable, creative people and give them the freedom to solve problems, they will do so. And, in so doing, they well help innovation to thrive throughout the company.

Measures of Innovation

Measuring innovation is inherently difficult as it implies commensurability so that comparisons can be made in quantitative terms. Innovation, however, is by definition novelty. Comparisons are thus often meaningless across products or service. Nevertheless, Edison et al. in their review of literature on innovation management found 232 innovation metrics. They categorized these measures along five dimensions; ie. inputs to the innovation process, output from the innovation process, effect of the innovation output, measures to access the activities in an innovation process and availability of factors that facilitate such a process.

There are two different types of measures for innovation: the organizational level and the political level.

  1. Organizational level

The measure of innovation at the organizational level relates to individuals, team-level assessments, and private companies from the smallest to the largest company. Measure of innovation for organizations can be conducted by surveys, workshops, consultants, or internal benchmarking. There is today no established general way to measure organizational innovation. Corporate measurements are generally structured around balanced scorecards which cover several aspects of innovation such as business measures related to finances, innovation process efficiency, employees’ contribution and motivation, as well benefits for customers. Measured values will vary widely between businesses, covering for example new product revenue, spending in R&D, time to market, customer and employee perception & satisfaction, number of patents, additional sales resulting from past innovations.

  1. Political Level

For the political level, measures of innovation are more focused on a country or region competitive advantage through innovation. In this context, organizational capabilities can be evaluated through various evaluation frameworks, such as those of the European Foundation for Quality Management. The OECD Oslo Manual (1992) suggests standard guidelines on measuring technological product and process innovation. Some people consider the Oslo Manual complementary to the Frascati Manual from 1963. The new Oslo Manual from 2018 takes a wider perspective to innovation, and includes marketing and organizational innovation. These standards are used for example in the European Community Innovation Surveys.

Other ways of measuring innovation have traditionally been expenditure, for example, investment in R&D (Research and Development) as percentage of GNP (Gross National Product). Whether this is a good measurement of innovation has been widely discussed and the Oslo Manual has incorporated some of the critique against earlier methods of measuring. The traditional methods of measuring still inform many policy decisions. The EU Lisbon Strategy has set as a goal that their average expenditure on R&D should be 3% of GDP.