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Anastasia Zawadowskiy - The What, Who, and Value of Innovation

Hello! My name is Anastasia Zawadowskiy and I am from Hollis, New Hampshire. I am currently starting my second year at the University of Chicago, studying Applied Math and Data Science. I am planning on applying my math and data science skills in the tech field, but I am also interested

in biology.

Outside of school, I like to work out, travel, spend time with my friends, and visit different coffee shops. This essay is my theory of innovation in a nutshell. I explore three questions: “What is innovation?“, “Who should Innovate?“, and “How do we value Innovation”.


The term “innovation” is one that is commonly heard today, whether it be used to describe the latest smartphone or to advertise a new makeup product. It has become a buzzword in nearly every advertisement as it leads us to imagine the advertised product as new, revolutionary, and something that is so unique it's worth buying. The overuse of the term has detracted from its true meaning, which leads us to question what really qualifies as innovation.

In simplest terms, innovation is a new idea, strategy, or product that is in some way different from and better than currently existing ideas, strategies, or products. Essentially, new plus better equals innovation, which then requires a definition of these two terms. An innovation is new if it has never existed in such a form or been used in such a way before. It can be entirely new or it can be a recreation of something already existing, as long as it is unique in some way. In other words, a unique innovation is one that is different from currently existing products in at least one aspect.

Although innovation is commonly thought of as a physical object, it can also be an idea or strategy. Additionally, an innovation must also be better than previous methods, ideas, or products. This means it must have a greater benefit to any group of people in any way, when compared to previous innovations. A good example of innovation is Tesla's electric engine. It fits our new criteria because it is different from ICE engines and competitor electric engines. In order to utilize the better criteria, we need to determine who is gaining more benefit from the Tesla engine than from other engines.

In this case it is the consumers. Perhaps Tesla engines have a faster acceleration time or range than ICE or competitor electric engines. Either way, the Tesla electric engine fits the better criteria because it benefits the consumers more than previous engines. In today’s world, many parties claim themselves to be innovators and their products as innovation, which brings us to the question of who should be innovating. In an ideal and ethical world, an innovator would be someone who is primarily concerned with their innovation benefiting all affected parties, but such a strategy could result in discarding innovations that could further society and all around is unrealistic. Realistically, an innovator, as an individual or party, should aim for their innovation to benefit themselves, the shareholders, and the employees. These are the people directly affected by the innovation. For example, the innovator should strive to avoid negative effects such as loss of jobs or company shares dropping in value. Secondarily, the innovator must innovate in a way that does not negatively impact the community affected by their innovation.

An innovator's intentions are also important when assessing who should be innovating. In a hypothetical case where we must choose between two innovators with innovations of equal value, we turn to look at the innovators' reasons for innovation. If one of the innovators is looking to make money for their own gain while the other wants to make enough money to pay for his daughter’s dream college, we would be more likely to pick the second innovator. Thus, an innovator should also have ethical intentions behind their innovations. Although anyone can innovate, not everyone should.

Now that we have defined what qualifies something as an innovation, we can see that there are a wide variety of strategies, objects, and ideas that fit our criteria, but not all of them are of the same value. For example, very few people would feel that a toaster is a more valuable innovation than the smallpox vaccine, which requires us to determine a method for valuing innovation. As established in our criteria of innovation, the goal of an innovation is to bring some sort of benefit to a group of people. Thus, the value of an innovation is a relationship between the quantity and quality of the innovation’s benefit. The quality of benefit is the amount an affected individual gains from the innovation. The toaster from the previous example has less qualitative value than the smallpox vaccine because it toasts bread while the vaccine could potentially save a life. The quantity of an innovation’s benefit is dictated by the number of individuals it positively affects, so an innovation that benefits many people is quantitatively more valuable than an innovation that only benefits the innovator.

The quantitative and qualitative values of an innovation can be measured in terms of monetary and ethical benefits. An innovation with monetary benefit would mean that affected parties are profiting fiscally, such as shareholders profiting from rising share prices or employees getting a raise. Similarly, an innovation with ethical benefit would mean affected parties are benefiting ethically. This could be in the form of benefit to preserving the environment or the creation of new jobs for the community. Ethical value also benefits the innovators through building a positive public image, which can result in the monetary success of the company.

In a society where consumerism is at the core, the term innovation is commonly used. The nature of the economy encourages innovation, but the societal benefit of innovation comes with consequences. It is more important now than ever to be able to determine something to be an innovation and to quantify its value. Similarly, it is our ethical responsibility to understand who is behind various innovations so that we can continue to innovate in a manner that will be ethical and valuable in our progress as a society.

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