Every Innovation is a New Thing but not Every New Thing is an Innovation (2023)

1Innovation is interpreted in many different ways. It is used to refer to anything new whether they are trivial or fundamentally different to the previous products or services. The term is used interchangeably to refer to an invention, change and creativity. Many authors discuss categories of innovation, implications and effects of the outcome without much discussion on what they mean by ‘innovation’ (Leifer et al, 2000; Storey and Salaman, 2004; Henderson and Clark; 1990). They have categorised innovation as incremental, architectural and radical. Incremental refers to modest changes; architectural refers to the impact at a systems level change as a result of the change in the parts; and radical refers to changes of a fundamental nature. While these categorisations may help provide structure to the simplified usage of the word, the categorisation does not help us to clarify or understand what is meant by innovation. If we do not clarify our meaning of the term, then it will lose its value just like many others come and gone before, e.g., Knowledge Management, Empowerment, Quality Circles.

2If we accept the meaning of the term in this way, then there is nothing new for us to aspire to in our development. The primary role of a definition is to help clarify our thinking, as we will show in our examples. The clarification helps to reduce inefficiency (stops us from wasting resources pursuing the same path under a different label, i.e., recycling of ideas) and increase effectiveness (reach goals, i.e., achieve breakthroughs). In this way, companies, individuals, teams and the society are able to recognise the limitations or break-through of their efforts, and recognise and explore alternative ways of achieving their aspirations. The definition of terms used in research is critical as it helps to clarify communication and avoid the misuse of emerging terminology that leads to considerable confusion and wastage of resources.

3Innovation is the display of the ultimate achievement of human brain power. For an idea, a product or service to become innovative, it has to break with tradition. In other words, it has to involve a fundamental philosophical paradigm shift, i.e., a change in the underlying principles on which the product or service is based. Innovation does not necessarily have to be an advanced concept or product. In fact, some of the most innovative ideas can turn out to be very simple. In this sense, the judgement of radical or incremental of change is of very little relevance. What is of issue is whether there has been a fundamental shift in the principles that are employed. To understand the notion of innovation we will use a practical example from the aerospace industry.

4This example is taken from the achievements of the NASA Dryden Flight Research Centre. It describes the NASA’s X-43A Scramjet engine (http:// www. nytimes. com/ imagepages/ 2004/ 03/ 26/ science/ 20040327_JET_GRAPH. html) which broke all previous records by reaching nearly Mach 7-10 speed in its test flight on the 15th November 2004.

5A normal conventional aero-engine operates by sucking in air through the rotating blades, compressing it, mixing it with fuel and igniting the mixture. The resulting hot air flow produces thrust to propel the aircraft forward. (See figure 1).

6NASA recognised that no amount of tinkering with the existing blades, their size, shape, material or the fuel mixture could help to achieve this level of performance for the next generation of aircrafts they plan to produce. So they engaged in a complete paradigm shift in their thinking and design, thus creating a new engine that works with no rotating parts. The result is the X-43A Scramjet engine which has a fundamentally new concept of motion creation. According to Warren Leary of the New York Times (www. nytimes. com), this engine works by compressing air at supersonic speeds through a newly shaped compression chamber which does not have moving blades or parts, and creating thrust from igniting a hydrogen-air fuel mixture (See figure 1). An increase in the speed by altering the shape, size, speeds of the blades or other characteristics of the blades would be only an improvement and not an innovation, although, in the popular usage of the term today, most authors (Isaksen and Tidd, 2006; Bessant, (2003); Leifer et al, 2000) would name any improvement of a product or service as innovation.

7There is always a limit to the improvements one can make with any redesign. The NASA designers realised that they had reached the limits of the existing jet engine design principles. Therefore, they had to think of a completely new way of achieving the leap in the speeds. The Scramjet engine is based on a fundamentally different philosophy, concept and design and therefore the achievement can be termed an innovation. Here is a serious lesson for companies who plan to invest resources on innovation. Unless they understand these differences, they will be spending a lot of resources on existing technology, products, services for nil or incremental returns on their investments.

8Innovation is the ultimate of human creativity. Everyone in the world, irrespective of their background, culture, religion, education, colour or any other defining characteristic has considerable potential for creativity. However, most remain working within the constraints of the ‘real world’ whether they are resources, culture, power, religion, politics, equipment or other perceived barriers, etc. Some even gain great satisfaction working within the constraints, routines and repetition of thinking and actions in their world. This phenomenon is common among many people across the world, whether they live in the developing or developed, industrialised or agricultural, or rich or poor countries. To generate creativity, one needs to be free in one’s thinking of the constraints and barriers of the ‘real world’. Checkland (1981) demonstrates how people can break away from traditional thinking by using his ‘Soft’ Systems Methodology. As his research findings indicate, this way of thinking (outside the box thinking) has to occur way before engaging with problem solving while Jayaratna (1999) discusses how the elements of a “mental construct” play a role in this process either to close or open one’s thinking.

9While the preparation of individual mindsets is a necessary condition, the role of social groups and interpersonal dynamics within the group plays a crucial role in the development capacities of individuals. The development of innovative capabilities can be considered as two complementary and interrelated perspectives, i.e., that of the individual and those of the collective. It is very important that efforts are made to achieve innovation capabilities within the individuals and within social groups (Callon, 1986). This means, at the level of a company, the role of social groups, work groups and individuals within or outside those groups along with their interactions needs to be considered at a formal level (Sormena, 2006). This notion is far more complex than it appears. The individuals and their networks both inside and outside the organisation contribute to innovation processes. Once innovative processes take hold, they spread beyond the initial focus areas to many other domains of action.

10Creativity may inevitably bring about change. In general, people who find satisfaction in the daily routine will resist changes and take steps to stop other people’s creativity which can result in changes to their routine and comfort state. Changes can make them feel insecure and generate fear over the loss of control of their environment. Since change ideas come from others, the natural instinct is to try and prevent those ideas being discussed or implemented (organisational politics) because the resulting changes can lead to the loss of control of their carefully nurtured favourable environments. Creative people who work in these environments find it difficult to keep their creative minds active. They either adjust themselves to the environmental constraints thereby losing their abilities to be creative, or leave in search of environments that facilitate their creativity. This is one of the reasons why professionals, who are creative by nature, such as artists, musicians, film producers, actors, dancers, dramatists, and designers, find it difficult to work in institutions or environments that thrive on the routine, repetition and conditioning. Even in creative industries, the previous generation of creative people, once they have established their positions, power, authority and control, may lose their abilities to be creative and therefore act as a barrier to new and upcoming artists, musicians, etc. Creative people encourage others, different ideas, methods, applications and products.

11Creativity is a necessary but not a sufficient preparation for innovation. Innovation requires a radically different mindset. Some are genetically geared to innovative thinking. They have grown in facilitating environments that encourage innovative ideas. Others have to develop their innovative abilities by un-doing their previously conditioned mindsets in order to free up their thoughts. Yet, others go in search of books, articles, education or become entrepreneurs to develop their innovative mindsets. Even in constraining environments, some innovators persist despite suffering at the hands of their bosses, hostility from their fellow colleagues and constraints from their supervisors. History is littered with punishment of philosophers, prophets, writers and speakers who had dared to think in fundamentally new ways or proposed new ideas that conflicted with the conditioned thinking of the kings, religious leaders, educators, rulers or bosses of the time. Since innovation involves the mindset, the more exposure the mindset has to radically different ideas, alternative pathways, variety of methods, and techniques, the better the chance it has of generating innovative ideas. Unfortunately, every time one copies an idea from another, the lesser the chance that person has of grasping the fundamental principles that help to generate those ideas. This does not mean that the person cannot be successful with other peoples’ innovative ideas. They can be immensely successful in translating the ideas into practice and extending their scope, but they cannot be successful in generating the next set of innovative ideas unless they appreciate and grasp the fundamentals underpinning the innovation. For instance, after the World War II, Japan, with the help of the USA, engaged in reproducing technical products of the USA, poorly at first (a Japanese label used to be associated with toys that broke down, cars that rusted, and cheap and imitation products), then improving them and finally coming up with innovative products. Today, Japan leads many product innovations in electronic goods. No one will dream of associating Japan with cheapness, low quality or lack of innovation. The USA, with their great freedom for ideas, leads innovation in the world, and there is no reason why every other country cannot achieve innovation.

12An innovative product or service has a limited shelf life. Once people accept an innovative product or service, get used to its benefits and take them for granted, that product or service loses its innovative status but not necessarily its novelty value, popularity or utility value. Any positive changes can only be considered improvements and not innovation until there is another break from the current paradigm set on which the product or service is based.

13Innovation is not limited to products and services either. The notion of innovation can also be applied to methods, techniques and processes. For example, Mahatma Ghandi’s non-violent peaceful marches against the British Colonial rulers of the day were an innovative approach because for the first time rulers and their guardians with guns and institutional power were confronted by people with no weapons or legal power (a whole new paradigm shift). That event has made us discover what can be achieved by the strength of invisible power of focussed but peaceful behaviour. Any advancement of peaceful behaviour methods in any form today can only be considered as an improvement of the original idea unless someone discovers another effective power display that is based on a different set of paradigms generating an entirely new innovative method.

14Innovation can be at many levels and be observable only by those who are working or using the products at that level. For example, manufacturers of new models of cars are continuously engaged in improvements of their products, whether they are on space utilisation, speed, comfort, facilities, safety or performance. A shift from combustion-based to hydrogen-based engine power is an innovation at a technology level but not at a product level for the customers. The concept air car (MiniCAT) (http:// www. rediff. com/ money/ 2007/ mar/ 21car. htm) based on compressed air is once again an example of innovation at a technological level (break with the combustion principle) but not at a product level. In similar ways, there are many engineering innovations taking place at technological levels that are not observable at the product levels, e.g., cell phones, TVs, cameras. However, a car based on a cushion of air (no wheels), with no steering wheel but programmed to arrive at a destination using GPS technology can be considered as a product innovation for the customers.

15Another example is an anecdotal story about the NASA astronomers wanting a pen that could write upside down. Fisher Inc. developed a pen that could help to write upside down, under water and in extreme temperatures. (See figure 2). However, the story goes that the Russian Cosmonauts used a pencil instead. Whilst this is not true (see http:// www. spacepen. com/ Public/ Technology/ index. cfm), the example helps us to illustrate the notion of innovation. In the case of the NASA Scramjet, the innovation is at a technology level but not at the product level. Ghandi’s example is an example of innovation in the process and method. In the case of the Fisher’s pen, it is innovation of the technology but not in the product because it is still a pen. The use of a pencil, if imagined was true, is an innovation of the method.

16Every human being has the ability to innovate. People, who may have been conditioned by their environments, need both external and internal stimuli to re-energise their intellectual capacity to innovate. Internal stimulus can be brought about by thinking, reflecting and self-critical evaluation. These attempts can be supported by meditation and spiritual values. The latter is the internalisation of spiritual values espoused by religion that help to liberate the mind and not the rituals or the external manifestations of mixed religious and cultural practices, i.e., incense, candles, flowers, gifts, donations, singing, chanting, rituals or other visible actions. Innovation comes from the abstractions of the mindset to a higher level of thinking. The mindset can also be helped by reading thought-provoking books (Checkland, 1981; Churchman, 1971) that make one stop and think (not books that provide solutions or suggestions) and by non-conformist educational curricula, especially when learning (not qualifications) becomes the focus of education (Postman and Weingartner, 1969). However, the most effective way of developing innovative thinking is by engaging in free conversations and debates with others especially with those who have opposing views.

17Innovation results from continuous engagement with ideas and actions with the aim of learning from the challenges embedded in the tasks or objectives. Managers who wish to develop their staff capacities to innovate need to develop their own capacities to innovate. They need to create environments that reward new and creative ideas of their staff.

18Managers must enable their staff, as individuals and as groups, to become free, confident, positive and constructive, to be able to develop outside the box thinking capabilities. Every individual has to be considered as a social individual. This requires a person to be understood in a dialogic way (Peyron-Bonjan, 2000), i.e., dynamic co-interaction of two selves: one with an independent and individual person consisting of an interrelated body and mind, and the other as a part of groups or networks. Each term being understood as produced by and producing the other. According to Tabary (2006), this is the fundamental dialogy of Paul Vendryès’ theory of autonomy. It means that an individual must be perceived as a separate entity as well as an integral unit, while a group or a network (or a project team) must be perceived as a distinct whole (with emergent properties) made of and made by interacting semi-autonomous individuals. None of these dimensions can be ignored, because one serves as the foundation of the other. Such an approach is essential if one must understand the dynamics of emerging social issues (Morin, 1994).

19If our problem is to manage organizations and groups that engage in innovation, then we have to consider everyone as being capable of innovation. Of course, because of their acquired culture, mindset, character and conditions in the groups and teams, people as a priori are generally interested in and open to innovation, invention, and application, and in doing things differently (Maturana and Varela, 1994). As explained before, some people are oriented towards creativity and innovation, open to new solutions, or adopt new ways of doing things, whilst others are less open to such challenge. Whereas some people are excited by innovation and change and are ready to engage with the ideas and make significant progress, others, for different convergent reasons, are reluctant and afraid, and resist change.

20The challenge for managers is to make their organizations break with tradition for generating innovative ideas, whilst ensuring that group cohesion and values are maintained. Therefore, there is a balance to be achieved between innovation, and change and stability of living with existing ideas (Ugarte, 2004). It is a form of a collective walk in hostile environments. The challenge for management is to enable individual and group’s capacities to tolerate, explore and analyse ideas as well as abstract lessons from those experiences. It is a form of “double loop learning” (Argyris and Schon, 1978).

21Innovative thinking is released by continuous engagement of ideas and actions with the aim of learning from challenges embedded in the tasks or objectives. Executives, who wish to develop their staff abilities to innovate, should develop their own capacities to innovate. They also have to create environments that reward ideas of their staff. In the area of customer service, this means the deriving of ideas and inducing of change for enhancing service at customers’ level. Even if innovation processes do not lead to any outcome, the very process will open up the mindsets and at least lead to improvements.

22Executives who expect to lead innovation in their companies must adopt a set of essential strategies for bringing about such achievements. The change starts from within them in the first instance. They are:

  • Be self critical and encourage others’ critical comments of self actions
  • Abandon political games with others. The more energies expended in politics, the less chance to develop innovative thinking
  • Develop a non punishment oriented environment where ideas for improvements are encouraged. While improvements do not automatically lead to innovation, the facilitation of ideas lay the ground work for environments that lead to innovation
  • Encourage experimentation without fear. This begins with relaxing the constraints within which staff has to operate. The more controlled the environments, the less chance there is for innovation potential to be released
  • Remember, innovation is not about quantity. One innovative idea may payoff for everything now and for the future
  • Recognise that innovation is about brain power and that it has very little to do with a person’s background, wealth, status, position or power. (US has created the least interventionist environments and that is why there is such a lot of innovative ideas and products in that country)
  • Encourage innovation in staff through public recognition or rewards
  • Do not tolerate secretiveness or the stealing of ideas from others as they lead to severe penalties, fines and compensation payouts for the organisation in the end
  • Draw up a publicly acknowledged code of practice that applies to everyone. Tolerance of the theft of ideas from others within the organisation will stop its move to innovation.
  • Take out intellectual property rights for an innovative product or service as soon as possible to prevent its theft by others. The issue of intellectual property rights is a very hot discussion topic in the West
  • Create pressure- and stress-free environments to facilitate innovation. An over tired mindset is not going to generate new ideas
  • Encourage individual and collective reflection
  • Encourage individual and collective learning (particularly action learning), evaluation and individual and collective criticism
  • Encourage focussed thinking (objectives-oriented, client-oriented, result-oriented, etc.) and project based organization of action.
  • Above all, keep politics out of the environment. Political mindsets are incapable of generating any innovative ideas.

23Innovation is about breaking with tradition. For something to become innovative, the principles on which the process, product, service or method are based, have to be fundamentally different from those that existed before. Every human being is capable of producing innovative ideas, products or services. Innovation is not dependent on the wealth, status, position, age, gender or any other characteristic of individuals except the ability to think for themselves. Executives who wish to lead their organisations to innovation must set an example by encouraging and rewarding innovative ideas of their staff. By its very nature, every innovation leads to something new, but not every new thing is an innovation.

24Prof. Nimal Jayaratna is a consultant in systems thinking and innovation. He is Professor of Systems and Methodology of Change and has worked as Head of Divisions, Schools and Associate Dean of Research at 4 universities in the UK and Australia. He has worked, conducted workshops and development projects in engineering, banking, finance, defence, health service and public sector service organisations in the UK, Australia and the USA. He is the Founder and Chair of the British Computer Society Methodology Specialist Group, Co-Chair of the International ‘Soft’ Systems Methodology Group and the Past President of the UK Systems Society. Prof. Jayaratna has given keynote addresses on innovation in Australia and China, and has chaired over 12 international conferences. He has edited 11 books and conference proceedings and published over 100 papers. Currently, he is engaged in a major project at Boeing Employees Credit Union, Seattle, USA. Prof. Jayaratna believes that by extending the innovative capacities of Executives, corporations can bring about fundamental changes to the companies’ bottom line and at the same time develop organisational ability to lead its market field.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Ouida Strosin DO

Last Updated: 03/04/2023

Views: 5906

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (56 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Ouida Strosin DO

Birthday: 1995-04-27

Address: Suite 927 930 Kilback Radial, Candidaville, TN 87795

Phone: +8561498978366

Job: Legacy Manufacturing Specialist

Hobby: Singing, Mountain biking, Water sports, Water sports, Taxidermy, Polo, Pet

Introduction: My name is Ouida Strosin DO, I am a precious, combative, spotless, modern, spotless, beautiful, precious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.