Innovation: What is it really?

July 12th, 2017

When it comes to innovation, take Simon Sinek’s advice and start with the “Why”. The answer to that question may seem obvious. To make more money, right? Sure, but as the pace of change around us accelerates, product development cycles shorten, and entrepreneurship becomes more “democratized”,1 it becomes a matter of survival, and that’s a pretty compelling “Why”. So if the only viable option is to innovate, what can we do and how can we do it?

Part of the answer lies in how we define innovation. If we benchmark our beliefs about innovation against wildly successful outcomes such as the iPhone, Google, Uber, Netflix, or Amazon, innovation can seem tremendously daunting. “How can we ever do that?” Innovation can take many forms, including improvements in manufacturing processes, how to interact with customers, how products or services are distributed, and product design and packaging, just to mention a few. So let’s focus on a unifying concept that characterizes all innovation.

“Innovation is optimizing the value embedded in an idea that is new to you.2

The key aspect of this definition is that whatever new thing you are offering or doing must create value, and for a business that value must exceed the cost of getting your new thing into the hands of its users. The word value, like innovation, conjures up many interpretations, most often associated with money. However, value fundamentally relates to the feeling one gets when experiencing a product, service, way of working, or way of conducting commerce, and it reflects the resource we are prepared to offer in exchange for experiencing that feeling. That resource often is money, but it can also be goods in kind, time, work, access, control, and even privacy.

Innovation creates value in innumerable ways, but let’s use today’s smart phone as one example. These remarkable devices are a technologic marvel that many of us cannot live without, yet they came into existence only ten years ago. They create economic value for their companies and shareholders, for developers of apps, and for companies that have optimized their websites to make it easy for their customers to do business with them. They create personal value for the users of the devices who can multitask without being tethered to their desk. By changing the way we interact with each other, they also create strategic and social value. Consider the impact that embedding a camera in the phone has had on our personal lives, our social discourse, and even the geopolitical landscape.

The notion that innovation springs from an idea that is new to you, but is not necessarily a brand new idea in itself, brings innovation within reach for all of us. We don’t have to be the genius who conceives of something that has never before existed in the physical world. And, we don’t have to do it alone. The collective intelligence that comes from people’s different knowledge and experiences is a vital asset to creating innovation. So who are these innovators, and how do you become one? We’ll explore that in the next segment of this series.

This post was written by Mike Murray, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, CPC. Dr. Murray is an innovation expert and a guest blogger on our site. He is a veterinarian, and serves as a Technical Marketing Director for Boehringer Ingelheim’s Animal Health division. He is a life and leadership coach, as well as a certified trainer for Managing Innovation™ with his organization. Dr. Murray coaches individuals and teams to help them be even more successful innovators.


1. https://steveblank.com/2017/05/09/innovation-change-and-the-rest-of-your-life/, accessed on May 10, 2017.
2. From Managing Innovation™, Driving Ideas from Strategic Initiative to Value Creation. Barnes and Conti Associates, David Francis PhD.