Innovation has become a hugely popular buzzword over recent years. It has made it’s way into the vision, values and mission statements of many modern engineering companies (including the one I work for) and is touted as something to aspire to. “If we can innovate enough, we’ll maintain and expand our business”, the theory usually goes.
All this talk about innovation has made me ask myself, what really is innovation? It’s easy to think of innovation as being huge steps forward in technology or massive breakthroughs and discovery, but I don’t think it has to be that way.
In thinking about innovation, it makes sense to at least take a quick look at a company who is held up around the globe as world leaders of innovation. What exactly do they do that’s so special we can give it the magical label of “innovation”?
Apple products are often hailed as massive achievements in the world of innovation. Representing significant advances in technology, the iPod, iPhone and iPad have all taken the world by storm. People everywhere seem to be amazed at the technology that goes into these devices. But, and this may be a bit controversial, I don’t really get it. Sure, each of these devices is impressive in it’s own way, but I don’t see the technology as being all that innovative.
To me it looks like Apple have been clever in the way they package and present technology, but fundamentally I can’t see the sort of innovation that so many people claim in these products. It looks much more like for each product Apple has taken existing, normal technology, then tweaked and packaged and come up with something we are so quick to give the “innovation” stamp of approval.
So if we take the same approach as Apple to tackle the question: “what is innovation?”, it looks like our answer might be that innovation could be described as the incremental tweaking, repackaging and presentation of common, standard components and technology. Perhaps not the most glamorous definition, but I think in some cases it still stands.
It makes me wonder, how many times have I overlooked potential innovation sitting right in front of me? How many times have I missed the small steps because I’m so focused on the world changing, massive jump in technology I think I need to qualify for the most prestigious of labels – “innovative”?