Reflecting upon the concept of Innovation

Research and Innovation4 Comments

For the last couple of years, under the leadership of Howard Errey, the DSC Digital Learning Team has been running the Innovation Incubator.  The Innovation Incubator has been conceived as a space where academic staff across the college can come together to share, discuss and work on creative and innovative ideas.  This year, I have been given the opportunity to join Howard in the running of the Incubator, and so far I can say that it has been amazing to get to know the members, witness their enthusiasm and hear about their projects.

Thus far, the experience has been very rewarding and Howard and I have been working hard to support the staff in realising their ideas and turning them into tangible projects; but like with anything we do in life, there is always going to be room for learning and reflection, and the Innovation Incubator has done that for me.  At some point in the process, I had to stop and ask myself a very simple question: What is Innovation?

It became clear to me that defining innovation was crucial, and there were two very important reasons for that.  Firstly, it assisted me to define my role in the Innovation Incubator as well as building a better understanding of other initiatives across the university, secondly, it helped me to avoid making the mistake of thinking about innovation in terms of “technocentrism”.

So, because I personally thinks it is always fun to learn a little bit about the origin of words, especially when they have been around for centuries but suddenly become the one to capture our imagination and transform the way we go about doing our jobs, I decided to go back to the basics and look up at the definition of innovation; this is what I found:

What is Innovation?

The word innovation originated from the Latin word “innovationem”.  The Online Etymology Dictionary defines innovation as meaning “a novel change, experimental variation, new thing introduced in an established arrangement”.  While Wikipedia defines it as a “new idea, device, or method”.  Therefore I dare to think, at least, that you will agree that innovation is, amongst many other things a:

  • new idea
  • new way of doing something
  • different way of utilising an existing process, object, technology
  • a new process
  • a different way of thinking

However, there are other fascinating facts about the word innovation.  Apparently, it was not always such a great word to use or say.  According to Emma Green in her article entitled “Innovation: The History of a Buzzword”, innovation was not considered an accolade, on the contrary, it was seen as a kind of an accusation, subjecting those calling themselves innovators to harsh treatment.

But life is in constant motion and flow, definitions evolve and so do their applicability and usability; which means that nowadays “innovation” and “innovators” will live freely and without fear. Or at least, I would like to think so! therefore let’s embrace the concept and see it as a platform to see the world around us in different ways, to solve problems in creative manners, to improve what already exist, to invent and to generate.

Finally, if you are interested in learning more about the idea of innovation, you might like to read the work by Benoit Godin.

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Leigh Blackall
4 years ago

Thanks Zaina, as you know, I am trying to work up a space around Art Thinking, and I hope it will be a way to reintroduce appreciation for the role art has played in innovation for centuries.

Spiros Soulis
4 years ago

Thanks Zaina, enjoyed the post, wanted to get your thoughts on disruption within innovation as I see these ways of thinking closely linked i.e you can’t have innovation without disruption. Perhaps the ancient Greeks who termed the phrase (surprise surprise) were right in that it was used to change laws and even the constitution. If we are not changing (fundamentally) our programs and teaching methods are we innovating or are we taking yet another safe approach with only slight shifts in change.


[…] of you would have read my previous blog,  Reflecting upon the concept of Innovation, in which I shared some of my thoughts about the origin and definition of the term.  This time, […]