The role of innovation in our world
Innovation is a fundamental characteristic of being human. We live to move forward, and any struggle in doing this leads to feelings of stagnation. Whether it plays out on a personal level, or a larger societal scale, the desire to create change is always present. Innovation as a term refers to anything original in its thinking and the ability for it to spread, or as the Merriam-Webster dictionary describes, 'the introduction of something new.'
Innovation is pervasive, moving through the macro and micro details of our lives. It could manifest as a small change in an individual’s existence, or a new direction for humanity as a whole. It could mean technological breakthroughs, or the introduction of a new way of thinking. In business, it could mean improving an already existing product through small incremental change, or inventing a brand new market. Whatever form innovation takes, its sole purpose is improvement.
Why do we innovate? Studying the outcomes
Innovation always responds to a recognized need or a void. When an idea is supported financially and formulated with the right technology, it has wings to fly. Studying the outcome of different examples of innovation can give us greater perspective on the important role it plays in our lives, and what drives us to seek out new terrain in the first place.
One of the most significant benefits of innovation is economic growth. When applied, new technologies and methods improve productivity and efficiency, generating greater output through more goods and services which then stimulates profit, wages and the future of new jobs. Technology is often feared for its ability to replace the need for human labour, however this wasn’t the case with the industrial revolution, which brought huge transformation and improvement to people’s lives. Hand-made to machine-made was an enormous innovative change which increased employment as well as standards of living. And while the future may look precarious with the introduction of robots, AI and other automation, the economy is projected to keep growing “at a rapid pace over the next few decades” according to a recent BBC report. It also notes that with the introduction of new technologies by 2050, the global market is projected to double its current size, even as the UN forecasts the world’s population will only grow by a modest 26%.
While the industrial revolution is responsible for some of the most remarkable advancements in human history such as the steam engine, electricity, and technological advancements to combat sickness and poverty, it is also responsible for the current climate crisis we currently find ourselves in. It has created a culture of overproduction and overconsumption, which now need innovative ideas in the field of sustainability, education and improved resource consumption. Innovation is now an essential component for the future of our survival, rather than a solely economic drive.
Continuous improvement: the importance of innovation from a business perspective
While we tend to think of innovation as groundbreaking technology, inventions, or the creation of brand new markets, there are in fact many types to be explored within the matrix. Whatever impact level or framework used, understanding the importance of innovation behind the success of every business is fundamental.
Over the past decade, we have seen a massive increase in technological advancement. Businesses are forced to stay relevant within the current climate as well as differentiate themselves to stay afloat. Whether a company chooses to go down the route of radical disruption to create a new market such as Amazon, or find success through continual reinvention and incremental change such as Apple, innovation is survival. Without investing time and resources towards innovative methods, it will be impossible to keep a competitive advantage over others in a saturated market.
Increased productivity is another important factor birthed from innovation. There are the obvious advantages linked to machine production and level of output, such as higher profits and return on investment, but it affects more than this. When repetitive and less efficient practices are reduced, employees and the organization as a whole can focus on other tasks which may hold more value. Finding space for new value is the key ingredient for a company to truly grow.
Whether the focus is on internal workflow, new products or the business model itself, there needs to be a culture of innovation in the workplace to motivate, inspire and bring employees together. It could be as small as implementing ideation sessions or think tanks, taking surveys and polls, or holding monthly training or feedback groups. An organization that fosters the right environment for innovation to thrive is ultimately utilizing the skills and knowledge that exist across a team. This level of respect and expectation creates a circular pattern for continuous learning and development for the business as a whole.