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What is innovation?

An investigation into the term 'innovation' and what it means for organisations

The term ‘innovation’ is often used in many different contexts. New College Durham have worked in partnership with Business Durham to develop a working definition to determine what this means for organisations.

Innovation is the design and, crucially, the delivery of something new or different. It matches what’s needed with what’s possible. It is the commercialisation of ideas into wealth and prosperity.

This means that innovation can be a product, process or service. Famous innovations range from Dyson vacuum cleaners and self-service checkouts to the Instagram social network and Google Earth.

Innovation can create completely new markets. This type of innovation can have a radical impact on society and the economy. Henry Ford’s car was a brand new product that met the need of people to get from A to B. It was a completely new way of meeting this need, which has gone on to create one of the most significant industrial sectors and job creators of our time.

Some innovative developments are incremental small changes, but can dramatically improve benefits to society. Innovation in automotive technologies, such as ABS, airbags, parking sensors and lane departure technology have not necessarily created a whole new market but have improved road safety.

Innovation is often a mix of technology push and market pull. Sony launched the first commercial E-Ink E-Reader and created the market for electronic readers. It was technology that was “pushed” to the market for many years before the market started to “pull” it. In 2014, Sony exited the very market it had created. When the market pulled, it chose a different type of e-reader, the Kindle, because it was linked to Amazon’s powerful service model.

There can also be unintended innovations, such as ARPANET. This was a long way from today’s internet and not intended for the same use, but the opportunities were spotted and this became one of the biggest wealth generators in human history.

Innovation is an organic and unpredictable process that requires risk. Innovation needs a key framework in place for it to happen effectively and efficiently. Knowledge of this framework, and having strategies in place to help people think innovatively, is an essential skill in today’s market and is essential for the growth and success of any organisation.

Find out more about New College Durham’s Innovation Foundation Degree, designed in partnership with Business Durham.