What is Innovation? Introduction and Definition for Practitioners

Innovation is one of the most important topics concerning the long-term competitiveness of companies. But what is innovation exactly? Why is innovation management so important for organizations? And what different types of innovation are there? In this article, you will get an easy-to-understand introduction to a complex topic.


What is Innovation? (Definition)

The word “innovation” is derived from the Latin verb innovare, which means to renew. In essence, the word has retained its meaning up until today. Innovation means to improve or to replace something, for example, a process, a product, or a service. In the context of companies, however, the term needs a definition. In the complex context of business, a definition is needed.

Innovation is a process by which a domain, a product, or a service is renewed and brought up to date by applying new processes, introducing new techniques, or establishing successful ideas to create new value.

The creation of value is a defining characteristic of innovation.


Why is innovation so important?

Organizations have several options to increase their competitiveness: they can strive for price leadership or develop a strategy of differentiation. In both cases, innovation is essential.

  • Companies that choose price leadership must secure their long-term competitiveness by developing innovative, highly efficient processes. Process optimization and continuous improvement in terms of costs are important for them.
  • Companies that strive for a differentiation strategy need innovation to develop unique distinguishing features to their competitors.
  • Many start-ups launch their activities by developing an innovative product or service.

Continuous innovation is, therefore, crucial for all companies. The main difference is in the focus of the innovation strategy, which varies considerably from company to company.


Organizations can drive innovation using state-of-the-art innovation software.

Innolytics® Managing Director Dr. Jens-Uwe Meyer writes in his scientific paper “Strengthening Innovation Capacity Through Different Types of Innovation Culture“:

“Although innovation has always been one of the driving forces in competition and has always been a primary competitive dimension, the numerous studies and publications of recent years show that the speed of change is increasing.”

This makes innovation one of the most important drivers for the long-term success of companies. Accordingly, methods of collaboration and teamwork are increasingly being used in numerous companies, for example,

  • to promote digital innovations and
  • overcome the challenges of digital change.

Innovation requires a higher degree of creativity than the operative business and a clear innovation strategy, especially in the phase of the so called “fuzzy front end of innovation“.


The Right Mindset for Innovation

Innovation requires more creativity and more willingness to take risks than the implementation of typical projects. To successfully realize innovation projects, a different mindset is needed. We have created four cartoons, which you are welcome to include in presentations or on your website with reference (backlink) to this page.


Break the rules!

With traditional approaches and conventional methods, you will often not get anywhere in the field of innovation. Challenge the status quo consistently! And explore new paths off the beaten track.


Collect ideas everywhere!

Innovation projects constantly need new ideas: To overcome obstacles, to change concepts, and to optimize strategies.


Believe in the impossible!

Imagine how your innovation will look like in reality. And believe that you will be able to overcome all obstacles on the way to realization.


Put together an innovation team of individuals with different perspectives and thinking styles!

Innovation needs the diversity of various competencies and diverse ways of thinking.


The Different Types of Innovation

In the context of businesses, there are different types of innovation.

Digitalization and digital transformation also require companies to rethink and develop new approaches.


Many Companies Focus on Incremental Innovation

There are different degrees of innovation. The mere improvement – for example, of processes or products – is called incremental innovation. Major innovations that lead to substantial changes are called disruptive innovation or radical innovation.

  • Incremental innovations are, for example, the optimization of existing processes and procedures or a product line extension.
  • Disruptive Innovations are, for example, major innovations such as iTunes and Google Android. These are often referred to as “digital disruption”: Innovations that change the logic of existing markets.


The Difference Between Incremental and Disruptive Innovation

For many companies, innovation means taking existing products and changing details: The color, the form, the functionalities, the size, etc.

  • This form of incremental innovation ensures the competitiveness of companies in existing markets.
  • In future markets, incremental innovation is often no longer sufficient. Companies must radically reinvent products and services.

To ensure their long-term innovation capability, companies worldwide have established an idea management and innovation management system that provides a structured approach: From the development of an innovation strategy to setting up an innovation roadmap and successfully implementing innovation.


Managing Incremental and Disruptive Innovation

For companies, setting up an innovation management is important in order to keep pace with changing customer needs.

Incremental innovation provides competitive advantages in terms of production costs, functionalities, or equipment.

  • Conventional innovation management often does not go beyond incremental innovation: products are improved, but not reinvented.
  • With methodologies like the Stage-Gate Model for the innovation of process and product development, however, companies quickly reach their boundaries, – especially in supersaturated markets.

Particularly in times of digital change, in which new customer needs emerge, companies must be able to develop more far-reaching forms of innovation and bring them to market successfully.


Disruptive Innovation Needs Different Approaches

Companies that want to drive disruptive innovation forward need to take a different approach and pursue a revolutionary path in addition to traditional methods.

  • More and more businesses realize that different approaches are critical to long-term growth.
  • Innovation has to be more radical in the future.
  • This requires rethinking. New management techniques are being sought. More courage and willingness to take risks are necessary.

The result of such management approaches are new products and services for tomorrow’s markets. Business models that are still impossible to imagine today will emerge. Small teams that can act flexibly develop innovative concepts faster to market maturity.


Methods for Managing Innovation

The methods of innovation management are as diverse as the types of innovation:

  • Innovation processes, with which developments are steered by a clearly defined procedure through different stages and levels.
  • Open innovation and Customer co-creation: methods that integrate customers directly into the development process.
  • Innovation labs: Business units in which employees work on the development of innovations outside the daily business
  • Innovation challenges: Competitions in which employees are asked to contribute solutions to overcome a company’s challenges.

It is essential to select the right tools for innovation projects and to build up the innovation culture as well to increase the innovation capability of a company.

Using the Innolytics® Innovation Software, you can start right away to develop ideas for different types of innovations. The software is free for up to 15 users.



How to Establish an Innovation Culture

The implementation of innovation processes and an innovation culture can be supported by appropriate software tools. The Internet offers new possibilities for communication and collaboration. For example, innovation teams can create workspaces for different innovation projects, jointly develop ideas and make them ready for implementation. Innovation tools also ensure that an innovation culture is created in the company and that barriers to creativity and innovation are overcome. By establishing the right culture, employees perceive innovations as positive changes and support innovation with motivation and enthusiasm.

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