What is Innovation? Towards a Universal Definition
What is innovation? It’s become such an overused management buzzword over the past couple decades that, when I told my very esteemed executive woman friend that I was planning to write a book on innovation, she groaned. “Don’t do that,” she said. “Everybody does that.”
Just today, Fast Company published an article asserting that we really need a commonly accepted definition for innovation to “weed out the truly innovative from the rest”. Its author, Stephen Uban, goes on to explain that the solution to this dilemma is the (apparently new) Innovation Standard that has been developed by the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA).
Is innovation a new product line? Does it represent an improved process for efficiency? Is it a great idea?
The answer, simply, is yes.
I went to the PDMA web site and found that you can purchase this standard, along with all the models necessary to build your “innovation management system”, for $749. I’m not a fan of high-priced “standards” in general, especially when they don’t have an established track record, but many of the elements are extremely well captured by traditional quality management systems (e.g. reducing waste, understanding current capabilities, improving against benchmarks).
We’ve been through this before.
I agree with Uban’s quote, above, but I also strongly believe that we can all get on the same page regarding what innovation is all about without obfuscating things further.
In 2008, I proposed that we should just extend the ISO 9000 (3.1.5) definition of quality to define innovation as the “totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy future stated and implied needs.”
This is perfectly aligned with the 2013 report from the ASQ Innovation Think Tank that establishes innovation as “quality for tomorrow”, and also with Max McKeown‘s definition of innovation as “a new idea made useful (by whatever means)” — which includes the creative practice of combining and recombining ideas and information to yield new value.