Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Definitions ...

The first problem you encounter with any study on the processes behind innovation is almost always with the definition of innovation itself. This is not a unique problem but general to any emerging topic which is poorly understood.

This problem becomes acute when the subject transitions from being a new field to becoming hot, as many people try to make their mark on the subject. I'm not saying this is wrong, discussion and debate are always necessary but a consequence of tis debate is always a period of temporary confusion and a multitude of definitions. Eventually, agreed definitions will emerge and the topic matter will be well on the way to becoming more humdrum.

An example of this includes the *OA and *aaS debates over what actually constitutes a service and what acronyms should be used.

Unfortunately, whilst entertaining, this maelstrom of noise can sometimes bury simple underlying concepts. For example, the *aaS debates are fundamentally about the shift of the software stack from a product to a service based economy and the *OA debates are about higher orders of componentisation and consequential new architectures (abstract concepts in themselves).

Of course, this is my view and therefore is just as likely to be as wrong as everyone else's.

Whilst I use concepts such as radical, incremental, disruptive and breakthrough to describe various forms of innovation, I do like to start at the beginning when it comes to definitions. Hence over the next few months I'm going to write a number of posts based upon a few simple definitions for invention, ideas and innovation. I'll use these to describe the process of innovation and its connection to commoditisation and open source.

My starting points are :-

Discovery and Invention are processes that result in the generation of new concepts or newly created devices or postulated entities. Both of these processes involve serendipity, questioning and the use of analogy. Invention and discovery are fraught subjects and it is often very difficult to identify the origin of any invention or discovery.

Idea is an image or a concept or abstraction. At any moment in time in our society, there are a large number of new ideas which have no economic value and are external to the market system as they have not yet been put into practice. Ideas are normally derived from discovery or invention, though the process is cyclical and complex.

Innovation is the first attempt to carry out an idea into practice; it is the embodiment, combination, or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant or new products, processes or services. Innovation is neither an idea, an invention nor a discovery but a consequence of these. Any invention can lead to a number of separate innovations depending upon what ideas are created and subsequently implemented. Innovations can be classified using the concepts of incremental, radical, breakthrough and disruptive however the mechanism of how they spread and whether they are successful does not determine whether something is an innovation or not.