How much novelty does innovation require? – A very short introduction for project managers
Social Innovation Insights
"I have a social project, but is it innovative enough? What does innovation actually mean?" These questions are frequently asked every year during the application phase for SozialMarie. In this blog post, we give a mini-introduction to innovation theory.
What is innovation?
Innovation is associated by many with technology, although its actual meaning is much broader. Not only can products or services be innovative, but also entire business or organizational models, administrative solutions, and social systems. What all of these have in common is that they are created with the goal of generating new, additional value (tangible or intangible) for their target audience. Thus, innovation can be motivated in different ways: from profit for a company to more social inclusion. This goal is achieved (so that we can speak of innovation) in a new, previously unseen way. Innovation means not only the end result, but also the process of how it is achieved. A groundbreaking idea is beneficial, but on its own, it is not enough to an innovation! Only when the innovation is also accepted and has changed people's behavior can it be regarded as successful.
The term innovation is largely positively loaded and for most companies and organizations, innovation is something desirable that should be maintained in order to be a competitive winner. Yet, the word says nothing about whether the new thing that has emerged has a positive or negative impact on the community.
How does an innovative idea come into being?
Contrary to the widespread assumption that an innovative idea appears like a flash of inspiration or a kiss from the muse, innovation is usually the result of a well-structured, deliberate search for possibilities. In order to find a new idea that will prove useful for customers or society, in addition to impartiality and a fundamental openness to new things, prior knowledge and research are vital. In the words of the chemist Louis Pasteur: "Chance favors only a prepared mind."
"It's so simple! Why didn't I think of that?"
Effective innovative practices start small. They offer a simple solution to a clearly defined challenge. They are straightforward, easy to understand, and focus on one thing, usually a specific social problem to overcome. According to Peter F. Drucker, the well-known Austrian economist, we recognize that an innovation has a real chance of success when it triggers in us the reaction, "That's so simple! Why didn't I think of that?" At the same time, good innovative practices should not set goals too low! From the outset, innovation points to the future and strives to have a directional impact. But for this, a good idea alone is not enough: only when it is combined with concentrated work is the recipe for successful innovation complete.
For SozialMarie’s social innovation criteria, visit: https://www.sozialmarie.org/en/criteria-for-social-innovation
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: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328263256_The_nature_and_variety_of_innovation [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" (https://www.univie.ac.at/knowledge/peschl/teaching/ec_knowledge_creation/index.html) held by by Prof. Markus F. Peschl (https://www.univie.ac.at/knowledge/php/wordpress/) at the University of Vienna.
Text: Fruzsina Herbert