Innovation is everywhere. A close look at your environment will help you understand that every object, every service, and every production process has been a successful innovation at some point. This exercise is designed to take away the unnecessary fear of dealing with innovation and also to dare to innovate yourself. If you are wondering what an innovation actually is, then first of all just let your everyday understanding guide you and assume that the word part ‘nova’ (=new) in innovation is important. It is less important for whom something is new – whether for the entire world, for a department or even just for a company.
Look around (in your mind) at your surroundings …
- Make a note of three innovations – either from your everyday environment or from your business environment – that were introduced between 2001 and 2018.
- Make a note of three innovations – either from your everyday environment or from your business environment – that were introduced between 1970 and 2000.
- Make a note of three innovations – either from your everyday environment or from your business environment – that were introduced between 1900 and 1970.
It is not important that you are able to locate the innovation in history to the exact year. Rather, it is important that you are able to place the innovation approximately.
If you have only noted innovations that still exist today, then you have merely picked up on comparatively successful innovations.
Do not be discouraged by this success of innovations that still exist today. To this end, consider why we believe the Romans were such great builders? The answer to this is as obvious as it is amazing. The Romans appear to us as so successful precisely because we only perceive the structures of Roman architecture that have survived the thousands of years. The poorer quality buildings are already in ruins; we no longer notice them. It is the same with the rather unsuccessful innovations – with the flops. These are often not in our memory. However, we will change that tomorrow in the next exercise.
What exactly do we mean by innovation?
First of all, innovation is something new, as the word component ‘nova’ already signals. However, we will have to take a closer look at this. At this point, however, we first want to point out that the term ‘innovation’ is not necessarily new. Already Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great English poet and author of an English dictionary, complained about innovation as follows: “The age is running mad after innovation. All the business to be done in a new way” (from J. Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791).
Let’s get back to the observation that there is something new about innovation. Note here that the concept of innovation in economics may differ somewhat from our general usage:
- Innovation is not a synonym for idea. An idea is an idea, a new thought that does not have to be implemented. Ideas become innovations when they are implemented. A mere idea for a new product is not yet an innovation. It is not an innovation until the product is also developed and (more or less successfully) launched on the market.
- In our everyday understanding, we assume that an innovation is only an innovation if it is completely new, i.e. if there has been nothing like it before. In economics, however, it does not matter whether the innovation is new to the world (our everyday understanding), new to the market, or even new to the company.
The ‘nova’ in innovation helps us to categorize innovations. You can first distinguish innovations according to what is new. According to the innovation object, we distinguish between product process and business process innovations (OECD 2018). Business model innovations would also be mentioned here, but we will not go further into these. According to the degree of novelty, a distinction is made between incremental and radical innovations.