Has Innovation Become a Buzzword?

Innovation is currently in the top one percent of words looked up on Merriam-Webster.com. The definition, incidentally, is given as a new idea, device, or method. Why is innovation such a hot topic right now? We have heard presentations on innovation at several recent meetings and seminars as governments, companies, and universities wrestle with how to define, measure, and promote innovation, especially in the life sciences.

Defining and measuring innovation is a challenging issue. How do you decide what is relevant to innovation in your work? Would it be the same for all groups? Ultimately, you are stuck with what is feasible to measure. Some of the parameters reported, such as R&D funding and number of patents awarded, seem logical. Other factors, including income levels and educational background, have been examined as part of a broader attempt to look at the overall environment conducive to innovation, but are less easily standardized and normalized across different corporate and academic cultures.

Trying to determine how to promote innovation is even more challenging. Whole management programs have been developed to encourage and promote innovation and innovative thinking, but beyond the cliché of “thinking outside the box,” what is innovative about these programs themselves? Can innovation and innovative thinking even be taught or is it an individual trait hardwired to a person? Innovation strategies, theories, and impacts extend across the U.S. landscape from education e.g., Harvard and NC State to mainstream media e.g., The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and even the Smithsonian’s profiles of innovators.

Is innovation simply a fad that has become corporate speak or a buzzword, or is there a true movement towards innovation? If innovation has been fully embraced, how long will it be until the average person feels its effects? One could argue that the rate of technology adoption from Facebook to Instagram to Google Glass is a sign of innovative product development making its way to consumer goods and services so innovation is already being felt in our daily lives.

Tell us what you think about promoting innovation. What academic, corporate, and governmental intangibles promote innovation?  How do you create an environment that will encourage taking risks, interdisciplinary approaches, and valuing different perspectives?

Leave a Reply