Innovation: What is it?

Question: What does the diving Kingfisher bird and Humpback Whale fin have to do with innovation? Read on and find out.

There are hundreds of definitions of innovation. defines it as:

“The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.”

No matter the source, all definitions have one thing in common: Innovation is a process that generates something new, something useful, something that saves money or generates profit.

These definitions are fine but they don’t define innovation in terms that are useful for people in organizations to actually help them become more innovative.

Steven Jobs was not a computer programmer or computer engineer but in the field of computers and hand held devices he is viewed as one of the most innovative individuals of the 20th and 21st centuries. Here is an individual, without a university degree, let alone a degree in any highly technical field, being viewed as the leading innovator in the world’s most highly technical field. How can that be?

MLEK believes that innovation has more to do with how individuals think and how they perceive the world. For instance, it’s about the questions insightful people ask and how their questions stimulate the techies.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, a writer but non-techie, has been credited with such ideas as the flip top cell phone, Tasers and other innovations. Arthur C. Clarke, author of “A Space Odyssey” envisioned the “news pad” (iPad), the PC and the internet back in the 1970’s, long before they became mainstream as seen in this YouTube interview.

These people all planted the seeds of an idea but it took others to make them a reality.

The concept of “looking at the world differently” is supported by William Buxton, Principle Researcher of Microsoft Research. MLEK agrees with Buxton’s view of innovation:

“Innovation is far more about prospecting, mining, refining and adding value than it is about pure invention. Too often, the obsession is with ‘inventing’ something totally unique, rather than extracting value from the creative understanding of what is already known.”

Apple applied this principle when they developed the iPhone.


Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world by simply telling us that Apple made a new device by crunching three existing devices into one; the cell phone, the iPod and the internet. This is about how he viewed the world, choosing to apply lateral thinking and asking profound questions like: “What if?”

Here are a couple simpler examples:

This deliberate thought process tells us that we can all be innovative – and do it intentionally.

Organizations need to ask themselves: How many things are there out there, that can be adopted, or adapted that can increase their sales or help them run more efficiently?

If we could learn how to stimulate our employees to look at the world differently, we can encourage them to come up with new ideas for products, services, and processes that can either increase our profits or help us save operating costs.

Remember the question at the beginning of this blog post:

What does the diving Kingfisher and Humpback Whale fin have to do with innovation?

“Look at the world differently and you’ll see all sorts of things.”

MLEK can help you and your people look at the world differently and think differently to achieve your desired results. Stay tuned for future blog posts on innovation.

MLEK provides training, consulting and strategic advice to the public, private, not-for-profit and academic sectors. The firm specializes in leadership, communications, innovation, management, ethics and emotional intelligence. The MLEK team connects client needs to leading-edge best practices.

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