What is innovation?

Curt Carlson defines innovation as, “the creation and delivery of new customer value in the marketplace with a sustainable business model.”

David Nordfors, who runs the i4j Innovation for Jobs Summit, succinctly defines innovation as “the introduction of a new narrative”, i.e. a new type of story.  He is developing this important idea on his blog and in a book he is writing.  If a product does not come with a compelling new narrative it will likely struggle in the marketplace. That is, developing a compelling narrative is an essential element of the value creation process.

David’s three rules for a new concept.  It must have: 
1) a name so that we can refer to it, 
2) a definition so that we know what it is or isn’t, and 
3) a narrative so that we can relate to it. 

 It is not possible to create something new without describing it and telling stories about what it is and does, both within the innovation team and for customers who will use it.

“For example, after I bought my first smartphone I was so pleasantly surprised that I showed it to all my friends. Steve Jobs had created a remarkable new product and completely changed the narrative about what computing devices can do.” Says Curt.

David’s definition tacitly assumes that this new knowledge and narrative have value to society (i.e., customers) and that this narrative has a measure of sustainability in the marketplace (i.e., in society). That new knowledge and narrative can be delivered as a physical object, a service, or a concept. 

But all important new products or services come with new narratives. 

Once that narrative becomes understood, it becomes the background narrative that carries with it new knowledge. The next innovation must create additional new, surprising knowledge with yet another narrative.

Most technological innovations are small, but they all matter. Thousands of small and medium sized innovations accumulate and occasionally another transformational innovation, like the smartphone, is created. These disruptive innovations come with surprising new knowledge, language, and narratives. The world is forever changed.
Elko Kilpi’s response to the above quote:- 

Having intimately followed the developments in mobile telephony and computing that led to the smartphone, here are some complementary thoughts: perhaps even a different narrative stating that

it was an emergent process of not only thousands of innovations, but also personal connections, unexpected encounters, bending the rules and lobbying.

I believe that there is nothing more important than the way we think about the nature of organisations and technology, particularly how they become to be what they are.

Our dominant voice in management theory is the language of design and control: we know how things are, what we are doing and what is going to happen next. If you look at this from the sciences of complexity, you could say that we live in an unstable world where sometimes very small causes can have very large effects. This model of the world of technology and innovation sees the future under perpetual construction through the very small (micro) interactions of the diverse entities comprising it. The final “innovation” or final “form” toward which it moves is not given, nor can it be chosen. It is a highly complex, ongoing process of people relating to each other. 

If we take this view, we move toward an understanding of innovation, and human action in general, as being in its essence a process of sense making.

Best wishes,


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