What is Innovation?

A question that has inspired stacks of books and reams of newspaper articles. But let us pick the latest row in this context: Malcolm Gladwell of the Tipping Point fame saying that he doesn’t think Steve Jobs was an innovator. S o he covers himself by saying ‘ not a classical innovator’ which is like splitting hair. Invention and innovation have  for a long time been fiercely debated words in terms of their differences, connotations and denotations. Some of it semantic confusion, the rest authentic investigation. But in the context of business it should be relatively easy to separate out enough to give us satisfactory working definitions. We understand that inventors are ‘discoverers’ whether they work outside the system or inside it. Being an ‘outsider’ should not be a critical condition unless by saying this we mean that they respect no boundaries.  Innovators are ‘collators’ who bring together into a new combination elements that have existed in different contexts and when combined into a new configuration – which you, I and Malcolm certainly think of –  produced something totally new and revolutionary. And in this sense Steve Jobs above all others was an innovator. And finally to call the sub prime bunch innovators is to really stand things on their head. Jeff Bezos of Amazon is an aggressive, savvy business and marketing man but not an innovator, not by a far stretch. “Innovators need more than an idea, they need a thick skin”……well that doesn’t sound too profound does it? Malcolm G was very fortunate with his first book that brought him to fame but it still sits in the category of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne….a collection of little so called ‘principles’ strung together to make it all sound new. No issue with this. This is as much creative thinking as anything else. But when some of this begins to aspire to high intellectual pronouncements it becomes irritating.


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