Innovation is like marketing. Everybody talks about it but nobody can explain it in workable terms that anybody can use. Explaining marketing as "customer acquisition and customer retention" goes a long way toward making marketing a meaningful concept. For example, I can model customer acquisition and break it down into steps, which meets my requirement for something being workable. (See this post and this post for more on customer acquisition.)
Innovation proves much more challenging to define in workable terms. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines innovation as "a new idea, method, or device". An understandable phrase but it is not helpful. It does not help us to do innovation. (Customer acquisition was quite helpful in explaining how to do marketing.)
My thinking on innovation in business so far has determined that innovation is:
- Satisfying customer needs
- Enriching the customer experience
- An iterative process
- Applicable to goods, services or processes
Therefore, innovation is "a process to satisfy customer needs and/or enrich customer experience through original goods, services or processes". The notion of "new" confuses me so I prefer "original". Processes would include "business models".This is not a finished piece of thinking but it is a start. It might even be workable, but further thought is required.
I often ponder about innovation when I read a good article on design. Now you know why I post on design, elegance and related themes. This weekend I read a very good article "D.School Bootcamp Bootleg" from the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. Download Bootcampbootleg2009. Anybody interested in a systematic approach to product or new business concept development or innovation should read this article. Stanford has a step-by-step process for design. Looks a lot like what I think innovation is.