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August 15, 2007

Innovation: Interrupted

Greg Verdino threw down the gauntlet and asked several folks to answer Jon Burg's call to define one word:


When searching for inspiration on Dictionary.com, I started to understand why people are dissatisfied with the explanation.

The definition of innovation is "something new or different introduced."

That's it.

The thing that struck me the most about the definition is that it lacked a requirement to be useful and good.

I can think of no instance where change for the sake of change has any general benefit. Without a reason for the change to occur, we're confronted with a situation where we are waiting for the tail to wag the dog. Synthetic cow chips might be new, but I wouldn't consider them innovative.

My first instinct is to simply explain the reason to introduce something new or different, and use language that encompasses either or both a general benefit to society and/or a specific benefit to a community or organization that can offer an objective benefit to society.

5 Questions to Ponder

  1. How does this square with innovations that apply to advanced weaponry and wartime tactics? Clearly these types of innovations in product or processes can be used for either good or bad purposes, depending partially who is using them and on if the side using them is seeking to advance an objectively good purpose.
  2. Is something less innovative because it is used for something bad, even though it has great potential for good? Many people look to the splitting of an atom and recognize the enormous potential for the creation and supply of energy. However, many of the same people lament the destructive power of weapons that use the same technology.
  3. What if there are unintended but unavoidable negative byproducts of the innovation? As they currently exist, energy plants that rely on fission also create radioactive waste that can be harmful to the world's ecology.
  4. If we can overcome the negative unintended effects of the innovation, does that make the initial invention more innovative? Currently we store the radioactive waste from fission plants deep underground. What if we could turn that waste into something useful... or at least innocuous?
  5. How do we know what should be considered "an objectively good purpose?" What defines objectivity? How can we properly couch that in the definition?

I'm going to mull this over a bit, and I encourage you to do the same. When you figure something out, head on over to Jon's blog and leave him an answer. - Cam Beck


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Never one to shy from a semantic debate, the blogosphere emerges again with a new question... What is Innovation, really? Digitas' Jon Burg, with a push from Crayon's Greg Verdino, has called for a simple one-liner, a single sentence description [Read More]



I'm not at all sure that the concept of innovation should be in any way tied to the potential use, or the perceived value, of the innovation. That becomes a subjective and changeable value judgment. All innovations have the potential for both evil and good, because human beings perform both evil and good.

I'd prefer to classify things as clearly and immediately useful/helpful innovations, possibly useful/helpful innovations, and who-knows-why-this-was-created innovations. All of which might be used for ill, of course.


Some words defy definition. Books have been written to describe what innovation is and what it means. Perhaps this is an instance when we should not define a word.

Cam, thanks so much for sharing the love! The more participation we drive, the stronger the conversation, the more telling and accurate our results.

Love your blog, love your perspective, keep up the great work! Rock on!

Thanks, everyone, for your input. To skirt the difficulty I had with the moral issue, I let the definition rest on usefulness (immediate or potential) without assuming the responsibility to define what is useful.

"Innovation is a new product, service, or process that has immediately or potentially useful applications."

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