Innovation is adaptation. It’s evolution. Business is not that different from life in the jungle. You have to survive, thrive, and that means you have to adapt. That’s all innovation really is. Artificial adaptation.
Innovation Is Adaptation
To understand innovation you don’t need to think like an MBA, you need to think like a monkey. As per above. This chimpanzee here is using rocks to smash open some nuts. Good move. He’s also doing it socially, making it likely to benefit others. That’s essentially all innovation is. Something relatively new and shared. Note the ‘relatively’.
Innovation is not awesome in isolation. That would be the Oomphalapompatronium. Innovation is something that helps humans better adapt to their environment.
Innovation Is Not Business
Modern definitions of innovation miss the relative part and substitute bias. INSEAD business school and Booz & Co business consultants (et al) have just released The Global Innovation Index 2011 which defines innovation as such:
“An innovation is the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), a new process, a new marketing method, or a new organizational method in business practices, workplace organization, or external relations” (Chapter 1 [PDF], page 4)
This is OK, but artificially limits the term based on their business bias more than the reality of the world. And bias definitely does influence perception of innovation. GE’s documented misperceptions globally and even the Innovation Wiki says ‘This article is written like a personal reflection or essay and may require cleanup’.
A lot of innovations have nothing to do with business. Like the Twitter hash tag. This business definition also misses relativity entirely. New or improved in relation to what? If innovations aren’t shared, they aren’t effective innovations. They’re lost inventions, like Marlon Brando’s conga tuner.
Innovation Is Evolution, By Other Means
What is confusing when you talk about innovation can explained in evolutionary terms. Brando’s congas were a change that didn’t fit into the environment. Hence they didn’t spread and evolve.
What makes it difficult to see innovation in this way is that businesses don’t have sex with each other or follow natural selection. But they do follow artificial selection, and I don’t mean turkey basters full of horse semen.
Innovations are adaptations that either survive or die in our largely artificial environment. They don’t have to be new, they just have to be novel. That is, they don’t have to be spun from whole cloth, they just have to fit. Wait, not helping. Innovations don’t have to be pure invention, they can be old things in new places, or old ideas done different. Everything Is A Remix, anyways.
In a business sense this means that they survive in the marketplace and become commodifiable products or ideas. But this is only part of their definition. I honestly think that businesses are big, dumb animals (like worms) that will eventually become sentient through investment in AI (see my vestigial post, Google As AI). Neither of this points is essential to the broader argument
The Broader Argument
Innovation is adaptation. Ideas (memes) are evolving through a process of artificial selection in the marketplace and society in general. Soon these innovations will become sentient and eat your babies. That’s ‘what is innovation’. IMHO.