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Organisations, environmental management and innovation
Organisations, environmental management and innovation

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1.4 Defining innovation

Having had a few moments to reflect on and consider your understanding of innovation, let’s start with a dictionary definition. The word ‘innovate’ comes from the Latin ‘innovāre’, meaning ‘to renew / alter’ (OED, 2014).

The OED defines the verb ‘to innovate’ as:

  1. To change (a thing) into something new; to alter; to renew.
  2. To bring in (something new) the first time; to introduce as new. 
  3. To bring in or introduce novelties; to make changes in something established; to introduce innovations.
(OED, 2014)

There is a subtle difference in the OED definitions: (1) suggests some kind of altering or even transformation of something that already exists; (2) conveys some quality associated with creative and inventive originality. Innovation is thus concerned with renewing or altering something that already exists, as well as the creation and invention of something new.

But what is the ‘it’ that is innovated? Some of your own answers to the earlier activities may provide some insights. Typically, innovation is often linked to some kind of product, a new device or item that represents a new way of doing things. Examples could be cars, mobile phones, computers or similar ‘gadgets’ or technology. But writers about innovation suggest this is quite a narrow, if prevailing view.

Reading 1 McDermott and Sexton, 2004

Approximate reading time: 10 minutes

Read ‘Four myths of innovation [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ’ (McDermott and Sexton, 2004).

Activity 7 Four myths of innovation

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Identify and summarise the four myths of innovation according to McDermott and Sexton. What are the implications for the way we think about innovation?

Provide your answer...

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  1. Technology is innovation. The authors argue that technology is the product or outcome of innovation by people, rather than the innovation itself.
  2. Innovation is for artists and ‘eccentrics’. Innovation is now a central concern for many organisations who are seeking to help their employees, at many different levels, develop new ideas and practices.
  3. All organisations encourage innovation among their staff. Despite beliefs and commitments to the contrary, many organisations fail to engage with their staff to utilise creativity and develop innovations.
  4. Innovation is a passing fad. Rather than being a practice or thing that can be used and discarded as needed, the authors suggest that innovation is a way of being and a mindset. This requires ongoing and significant commitment to enable innovation in all aspects of the organisation.

From this reading, it is evident that innovation can apply to products as well as services, ideas as well as practices, organisational forms as well as structure, and values as well as purpose of an organisation, to name just a few possible arenas and aspects of innovation. But perhaps the key message from this reading is that innovation is not technology – it is about people and the culture of organisations. Innovative technology may be developed and/or used by an organisation, but this is evidence of innovative organisational context, culture and the set of practices that have brought the technology into existence and/or use.