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The Role of Innovation

Innovation can be a key component in raising productivity, fostering competitive businesses and lifting a country’s Gross Domestic Product (2). It helps build new commercial businesses but also helps transform public services including health and education.
an illustration, with the word innovation in a large rectangle at the centre of the image, surrounded by 3 smaller illustrations depicting a light bulb in a cube, a circle with three green arrows pointing forwards and a cube with a cog inside.
© Creative Computing Institute

What is Innovation?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines innovation as:

  • a new idea, method, or device
  • the introduction of something new (1)

The Role of Innovation

Innovation can be a key component in raising productivity, fostering competitive businesses and lifting a country’s Gross Domestic Product (2). It helps build new commercial businesses but also helps transform public services including health and education. In this sense, innovation goes beyond the ‘new’ and relates to usefulness, or the ability to tackle societies’ problems. In the content of Intellectual Property (IP), patents and invention, ‘newness’ isn’t enough – innovation needs to provide a solution or a new application of an existing idea:

“Innovation means doing something new that improves a product, process or service” (3)

The Importance of Innovation

It is a key component in tackling social justice issues like climate change or income inequality. Social impact innovations can include anything from artificial lighting that encourages food growth in extreme climates, to 3D-printed homes and neighbourhoods, to four day work weeks (4)

Research by Innovative UK suggests that the advancement of the country’s productivity and growth is going to be formed through emerging technologies and industries (5). This requires individuals and organisations with new ideas, creativity and expertise. Organisations and innovators will need to represent the global market, speak different languages and understand different communities. The call for diversity in innovation, therefore, offers a real opportunity to expand into emerging markets and needs to go beyond tokenism.

Inequalities in Innovation

As Sasha Costanza-Chock points out in Design Justice: “In popular culture, we are often led to believe that all technology is created by brilliant, well-educated, mostly white (cis)men, working in university labs, corporate R&D departments, or perhaps in their garages, who go on to found Silicon Valley start-ups” (6). Whilst it might seem to those innovators (and others) that their position as innovators is based on their unique talents, access to becoming an innovator is shaped by social inequalities.

User Innovation

In addition to this, Costanza-Chock challenges the commonly used concept of the ‘diffusion of technologies’, where technologies are created by inventors based in institutions like labs, technology companies or universities, then – if they are a good idea – they ‘spread’ through society, first by early adopters, and eventually by everyone. This understanding doesn’t account for the significant ways that users of technologies innovate with them, shape them and change them in order to make them successful. As the author puts it: “many, if not most, small changes (iterations) to a given technology are made by everyday people (users), rather than by professional scientists, researchers, or product designers” (7) Sometimes users innovate quicker than producers, or sometimes they improve existing products. Example of user innovation include:

  • Divers finding ways to waterproof cameras before waterproof cameras were widely available (8)
  • Mansukhbhai Patel, an Indian farmer developing a machine that could mechanically strip cotton from its shell, after seeing the time-intensive process and health hazards women and children were exposed to when manually separating cotton lint from its shell (9)

Now it’s over to you. What does innovation mean to you? After reading this step, has the opinion you shared in the poll changed?

References:

  1. Merriam-Webster. Innovation
  2. Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills, 2008. Innovation Nation: Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills
  3. World Intellectual Property organisation. Innovation and Intellectual Property
  4. Alexandra Sutton. 50 social impact innovations that might save the world, Board of Innovation.
  5. Intellectual Property Office, 2019. Innovation and Growth Report 2018-19
  6. Sasha Constanza-Chock, 2020. Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need p.109
  7. Sasha Constanza-Chock, 2020. Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need p.110.
  8. John Spacey, 2017. 7 Examples of User Innovation, Simplicable.
  9. Vanita Yadav and Preeti Goyal, 2015. User innovation and entrepreneurship: case studies from rural India p.4, Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Further resources:

  1. Eric Von Hippel, 20015. Democratising Innovation
© Creative Computing Institute
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