Innovative, but how?


Vhled do oblasti sociálních inovací

"A promising new idea proves to be socially innovative when people change their attitudes due to it, make different choices, and new institutions and social practices are created.” 

At SozialMarie, we always talk and write about social innovation. Social challenges and new, social solutions are our focus. In truth, however, social innovation is just one of the many different ways in which innovation can take place. We will now give a brief overview of the different forms of innovation and the place of social innovation among them.  


What are the different types of innovation? 

The scale of innovation is broad: from a small change to a product to a revolutionary change to the social system or market, pretty much anything can be meant by it. Depending on how extensive the change, the innovation can be incremental (happen in small steps and remain superficial) or radical and affect the essence of the thing. For example, companies like Airbnb and Uber have disrupted the existing notion of mobility and housing and radically changed the market. When innovation creates a new market or applies solutions to a new domain, we talk about disruptive innovation. The (probably best known) form of innovation is product innovation, when a new or substantially changed material product is launched, or a product is used in a new way. However, a new product does not necessarily have to be created in order to reflect innovation. The redesigned way something is produced or handled can also be an innovation. For example, when cars are built on an assembly line, it is called process innovation. When the way services, whether in transportation or healthcare, are reorganized, it is called service innovation. All forms of innovation need an open eye, but some types of innovation can be planned better than others. A typical case of strategic innovation is the complete redesign of a company's business model (business model innovation), for example when Amazon sells knowledge about their customers in addition to products.  


How does social innovation differ from other types of innovation? 

In contrast to commercially motivated innovation, social innovation has as its goal the generation of social benefit. It differs from other types of innovation because it seeks to create social value and, in that sense, drive social change. Social innovation addresses social challenges, focusing on unmet need and social and structural problems. Instead of known, temporary solutions, social innovation seeks to recreate social structures and empower marginalized groups. The change that social innovation brings about is reflected in our behavior. When people change their attitudes or make different choices, when new institutions and social practices are created, a promising new idea has proven to be socially innovative. Although the problem-solving aspect is at the core of many definitions, social innovation cannot be relegated to the passive role of problem-solver. Social innovation is not always reactive; it can just as easily discover new territories, create niches, and proactively impact untouched terrain. 


To find out more about SozialMarie’s social innovation criteria, visit:



Portales, L. (2019). Social innovation and social entrepreneurship. Fundamentals, Concepts, and Tools. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Edwards-Schachter, M. (2018). The nature and variety of innovation. International Journal of Innovation Studies, 2(2), 65-79. Available at: [Accessed 14 December 2020].

Drucker, P. F. (2002). The Discipline of Innovation. Harvard Business Review, 80, 95-104.

The article is partly based on notes from the lecture "Innovation and knowledge generation" ( held by Prof. Markus F. Peschl ( at the University of Vienna.


Text: Fruzsina Herbert