My name is Jackson Lagerwey and I am a finance major at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. I am originally American but grew up in Southeast Asia living in Malaysia, Singapore, and Bali for my entire life. After college, I am looking to pursue a job in investment banking. I enjoy learning new things and in my personal life I am a huge basketball fan and love going to the beach.
What Counts as Innovation?
Innovation can be defined in a range of slightly different ways, however, most of them generally involve the idea of it being the process of implementing a new idea or method that will improve some area of life. As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, innovation is “a new idea, method, or device” or “the introduction of something new” (“Innovation”). I do believe these definitions are accurate, however, I would like to expand further on what I would consider innovative. This will help determine the fine line between when something is considered innovative and when it is not.
One definition of innovation that particularly stuck with me was by Harvard professor Teressa Amabile who stated that ”organizational innovation is the successful implementation of creative ideas within an organization“ (Amabile 126). Although this is applied to more of a business context, I believe this idea can be seen in all forms of innovation. She also writes that “innovation is built on creative ideas as the basic elements” (Amabile 126), which I believe is the core of innovation and the first thing we need to consider when trying to identify whether something is innovative. Innovation is built from new ideas therefore creativity is necessary for thinking of these ideas that have literally never been conceptualized in the past, meaning there isn’t a replica of this idea that exists out there in the world.
I believe there are some technicalities, however, for what can be identified as a new idea, particularly in regards to publicising the ideas. If multiple people came up with a new innovative idea on their own and implemented it into their business, then both of these would be considered new pieces of innovation, considering that this idea has been kept confidential among both groups. Even if one person does publicize it later, it doesn’t take away from the fact that they both came up with the new idea in the past. On the other hand, if someone releases it to the public sphere beforehand and another individual comes up with that same idea later on, completely on their own, this idea wouldn’t be considered new. Putting this thinking into a normal scenario, if I were laying in bed and wanted to find a way to turn off my lights without getting up and I am unaware of any existing product that can accomplish this but think of a clap on, clap off light, it wouldn’t be a new idea because it has already been invented and publicized in the past.
Going back to my point earlier, innovation requires new ideas and for something to be completely new it inherently must be creative and it needs to be thought of through creative thinking. This is because creativity is the ability to generate a unique or original idea. In the context of innovation, something is creative if it is a unique idea that could be a potential solution to a problem. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one of a kind, as unique just means that it is different from the norm or traditional way of doing things. Now, not all creative ideas translate into a piece of innovation, but all pieces of innovation need creativity. Being creative could be just finding or proposing a unique idea that has never been implemented before, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work. If the unique idea is successfully implemented and produces an improvement of some sort, then it can be characterized as innovation. In summary, creativity involves the creation of new ideas but taking it to the next level to innovation would involve the successful implementation of it.
Additionally, creativity used for innovation is different from creativity in areas such as sports. For example, in basketball, a coach can be creative with his game plan and tell his players to crowd the paint instead of their usual spaced-out defense in order to defeat a team they have been constantly losing to. This is a unique idea that has never been implemented by the coach before and it resulted in a win for the team. However, I wouldn’t consider this innovative because this new game plan is likely to have been tested out by someone else in the past in an identical situation with the same result. In sports, I would call the Golden State Warriors an innovative team. Steve Kerr was an innovative coach because he arguably changed how basketball was played in the NBA after he began encouraging his players to shoot an extremely large number of threes, which was never used before. It brought his team great success in the NBA and encouraged many other teams to do the same. Now NBA teams shoot much more threes compared to teams in the past because it brings better results.
In innovation, the new idea or method has to be successful, and we measure its success by determining whether it has made progress. Innovation has to have the ability to move society forward in some positive way or in other words, it shouldn’t destroy or regress from what previously existed. Solely being creative doesn’t ensure that the solution will necessarily work, as people need to know how to best implement this solution. It doesn’t have to fully solve the problem to be successful, as it can simply present a solution that is more effective or efficient than the previous one, which would still be an improvement. I think that people should feel the need to use your piece of innovation every time that particular problem arises because it’s the best thing available.
When talking about the scale of innovation, the positive change it makes can range in magnitude. There is incremental innovation, which is a small improvement from what was previously available. For example, someone could implement new technology into our sports shirts to improve them slightly by letting them dry 0.01% more quickly compared to before, ceteris paribus, this would still be innovative. Although it is a very minor piece of innovation, it would still be considered a new, creative, idea that contributes very very slightly to your comfort while wearing the shirt. On the contrary, if we compare this to the wheel, this was a piece of innovation that was revolutionary and created huge changes across society. This would be considered radical innovation.
I believe that it would be too hard to gauge the point at which something would be considered innovative or not if we looked at it on a scale of how much of a positive impact it has made or the amount of creativity it employs. Therefore, I think that if it has made a positive impact and is creative, it should count as innovation and from there we can just consider how innovative it is.
Who should be innovating?
There isn’t necessarily one group of people that should be innovating, however, if I was forced to choose one group, I would say that the individuals who should ideally be innovating are those who want to see a boost in the overall well-being of our population and aren’t looking to profit off of this. These are the people who genuinely want to make a difference in the lives of others and this is the foundation for the ideal person who should be innovating.
After demonstrating a clear interest in making the improvements discussed above, there are some other things that can help us determine this key quality. First, the person has to be relatively rich. They should be in the top 1-5% of income earners of our population which would help ensure that external factors or opportunities to earn money through exploiting the piece of innovation don’t distract the person. Additionally, they should have several million dollars saved in their bank and in assets. This would ensure that the person has an adequate amount of money to retire and isn’t spending the money they earn carelessly. These factors are important because someone that is less economically well off may be more desperate and therefore susceptible to falling victim to distractions to earn money selfishly. Those who don’t have a high enough net worth or aren’t earning enough money should focus on becoming financially secure enough first and improving their own lives first before focusing on improving the lives of others. However, I do believe there are outliers and not everyone will fit this generalization.
Narrowing it down slightly more, I think that the person should also have a lot of resources, expertise, experience, or other forms of capital. Having the best resources allows for more thorough research to discover problems and develop improvements while having expertise or experience gives someone the ability to really know the problems in their specific industry or business at a deep level. Having a well-equipped network can also be considered as the person’s connections can support their piece of innovation later on. Lastly, it is very important that the person knows exactly how to achieve this solution because then they will be able to use their capabilities and resources effectively and efficiently. Looking at it from another perspective, I also believe that young people should feel obligated to innovate more. They have come into this world with the luxury of having the benefits from all of the innovation produced by the people before them and they should think of new ways to improve the lives of the generations after them. Although it isn’t a requirement, personally, I would like to support the progression of our society and to positively impact our world in my own ways to ensure that our lives are all getting better.
How Should We Value Innovation?
In general, innovation should be valued extremely highly. It improves different areas of our lives, allowing us to overcome problems and ideally improve our overall well-being. Innovation moves us forward.
The value of innovation should be judged on a few key criteria points. All of these points are based on a higher layer of abstraction based on why it is important to innovate. I believe that we innovate to create a higher quality of life for as many humans as we can meaning the average well-being of people is raised. In our world, I believe the most desired thing from people is to have higher well-being and a better life, therefore innovation should aim to enhance your life with these things in mind. Each piece of criteria will carry a weighting and contribute to a numerical score. The higher the score the more valuable the piece of innovation is and vice versa. The range of the weighting goes from 10 to -10.
Jackon innovation index:
● The similarity of the piece of innovation to other things that already exist that aim
to achieve the same thing. This will determine how new this idea is and how effective it is at improving your life compared to the next best thing available. There can be one metric that is relative to the product that can assess certain things like convenience and another where users provide their judgment on a numeric ranking system.
Scoring: This will be a positive score and will be weighted heavily. It will be weighted at a 10 as having your piece of innovation be revolutionary instead of incremental will create drastic changes in the lives of others. In order to determine this score, you need to take the average of all of the different things you are comparing between a given piece of innovation compared to the next best option(s) that is available to accomplish the same job.
● The importance of the problem. The importance of it will be assessed based on the number of people that face the issue (essentially total addressable market). The most important pieces of innovation are those that solve severe problems for a large number of people.
Scoring: This will be a positive score that is weighted heavily as well. This will be weighed in at a 8 because it is important to address problems that help a large number of people and help make a big difference in their life. The score will be calculated in two equally split parts: How many people are affected and how much does it affect their quality of life. It is not a 10 because some pieces of innovation arguably bring improvements to our lives that we never even thought of before meaning we didn’t think there was a problem there to be solved.
● Alternative for importance of the problem: how many more people does it help compared to the next best option
● What other pieces of innovation or ideas can potentially be created as a result of your piece of innovation. This can be measured by listing out all of the other possible uses for this innovation and can be achieved by presenting it to a range of people from different industries for them to think of ways they could see this piece of innovation potentially helping their work. The more new ideas that can be listed down, the more valuable.
Scoring: This will be a positive score that is weighted significantly lower. This will be weighed in at a 3 because it is purely hypothetical and is limited by the imagination. We can’t exactly predict what will happen with the piece of innovation 10 years down the line but we can try to see ways it can improve our lives in other ways. It may even be argued that not coming up with different ways the piece of innovation could help in other areas of life would be more valuable, however, I think that being able to identify potential avenues it may follow shows that the innovation is at a level in which it can already impact other areas not related to its original purpose. It will be judged on a scale from 0-10. 0 being nothing else can be thought of while 10 being a lot of things can be listed (not sure exact number, possibly over 100). There will be a group of 30 people that comprise of 3 people from the 10 industries that relate closest to this piece of innovation.
● How much money can it return? This will allow the people investing to continue investing in more things that will positively impact the world. If you don’t return money then you won’t be able to invest in new pieces of innovation to improve the world Score: Less high positive
● How hard it is to implement. The main metrics used to measure this would be costs, time to implement and use, and ease of retrieving resources to produce it. Other metrics relative to certain products can be used too. This is important because if it is extremely difficult to utilize, the impact wouldn’t be as big as it could be.
Scoring: This will be the first negative number and would be weighed heavily because it is one of the main reasons that would deter someone from proceeding forward with a piece of innovation. It would be a -8 because then we would be able to determine how strongly the positive numbers outweigh the negative value or vice versa
● Can the resources be used for something better? This is another point that has to be heavily considered. This allows investors or creators to understand whether or not the resources needed for their piece of innovation can positively impact the lives of humans more if it were to be used for another purpose.
Scoring: This will be a negative number. It will be at a -5 because this is quite a hypothetical score as well due to the fact that it is hard to value someone’s time and effort when working on a piece of innovation. It is easier to judge the use of physical resources. Half of the score will be based on the physical resources while the other half of the score will be based on the intangibles.
If your score is negative, you should definitely not pursue that piece of innovation. If the score is above 5 it should strongly be considered, 3-5 it should moderately be considered and 1-3 it should be slightly considered.
Amabile, Teresa. Research in Organizational Behavior, vol. 10, JAI P., 1988, pp. 123–167.
“Innovation.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/innovation.