BY ADELE CASANOVA
Innovation is a popular buzz word in our world of entrepreneurship and technical wonders. But what does it mean to innovate something, and how is it different from creating something?
Oxford Languages Dictionary defines creating as “bring (something) into existence.” In other words, to bring into being something entirely new and as of yet nonexistent. To innovate is defined as to “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas or products.” In other words, innovation is the act of introducing something new, not creating something new, but rather, applying something already created to a new application.
We see innovation present in products, services, and processes we use every day. Businesses innovate new products or updated versions of products continually, such as cell phones and electric automobiles. Services such as Netflix are groundbreaking innovations in ways we entertain ourselves. Online shopping (Amazon), social media (Facebook), and on-demand transportation (Uber) are great examples of innovative processes that have forever changed our lives.
How does innovation come about? First, there must be a realization of a need, a problem, or an unfulfilled desire for something better. Recognizing the need and articulating it are the critical beginning steps in innovation. This is followed by research into the “why” of the need or problem. What is missing, what could be better, and would the innovation be of value? This thought process leads to ideas of “what” could be done, which existing products or processes could be combined, streamlined, or re-imagined to improve on the problem? Then a determination as to whether the problem could indeed be improved is made. Before engaging in innovative steps, is there enough motivation to carry it through? Is there value in the innovation? Finally, there is an all-important step in the process of innovation, the decision, and commitment to proceed. If it is determined that there is value in continuing the innovative process, only then is it wise to proceed with the implementation of any new product design, testing, and production, or any new process strategies.
The last steps in innovating a new product, process, or service are to put the newly innovative ideas into use and to confirm with data tracking that success has been achieved in solving the problem or fulfilling the need first identified.
More examples of innovation include bagless vacuum cleaners, email communication, Airbnb, paper straws, and Kindle. There are thousands more! Many innovative items, services, and processes continue to undergo additional innovation as consumers demand newer, faster, lighter, more convenient, more cost-effective, and eco-friendly products and services.
Two main components are always present in successful innovation: independent creative problem solving and resulting value to consumers and society.
Innovation is not restricted just to big companies. Small business owners and independent entrepreneurs can be innovative in creatively solving business problems and fulfilling their customers’ needs. Innovation could be applied in customer service routines and standards, to product use in tweaking “just so” to the tastes of customers, and creative price shopping and inventory methods. Individual people can be innovative in their personal lives as well. How many parents have innovated new ways to accommodate their children’s needs while creating a successful home environment for the entire family? Who knew that we are all potential innovators in our unique personal lives! Remember to see a need or problem, ask why it exists, what are options to remedy it, and will it be of value to my life and my family to attempt to innovate a solution? Then ask yourself, “Am I motivated to see the innovation through to the end? To be dedicated to the process of change?” If the value is there to go forward, then commit to the decision to proceed. For example, consciously make the changes needed, such as changing shopping and eating habits and replacing them with new behaviors, or changing the children’s’ bedtime routine to establish a calmer household. After implementing new habits and processes, ask yourself, is it helping, or do I need to tweak the new behaviors for better results?
Be on the look-out for signs of innovation all around you, at work, at play, and at home!