The deputy director of the Innovation SuperNetwork, Estelle Blanks, explains to the North East Growth Hub just what innovation really is, and how it can be used in businesses which are growing and scaling.
What is innovation?
The North East’s own Professor Roy Sandbach sums up innovation by describing it as "matching what is possible with what is needed, to create economic or social value".
Innovation is not invention, because invention is anything that’s possible.
But when that invention solves an existing problem, or creates a new need, and is of economic or social value, it’s innovation.
By those standards, the humble windscreen wiper, which the Innovation SuperNetwork’s Simon Green points out could be considered a North-Eastern invention itself, was a true innovation. It solved visibility problems on vehicle windscreens, and sold by the billion.
Google Glass, a wearable, voice-controlled Android device that resembles a pair of eyeglasses and displays information directly in the user's field of vision, is an invention… but not an innovation. It didn’t solve a problem, nor has it – at the time of writing, at least – created a need for itself.
Innovation doesn’t need to be creating something that’s never existed before – and in established businesses, it often isn’t. Instead, innovation in growing firms can be more about problem solving… modifying, adapting or combining existing solutions to create something new overall.
So why innovate?
Put simply, innovation is a survival skill. Successful companies not only respond to the current needs of their organisation and customer base, but they also anticipate future trends or demands and design processes, tools, products and services to meet these.
Statistics from Innobarometer show that those companies that prioritise innovation are also those who experience the highest increase in turnover.
Competition is not the only driver for innovation, however. It is central to organisations aiming to do social or environmental good. Eco innovation has ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ at its heart, versus the typical ‘take, make, dispose’ model of consumerism. Warp-it, for example, have built a business around the innovation of helping organisations find, give away, or borrow resources including office furniture and equipment.
NEXT: Versions of innovation
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