What Does “Innovation” Mean?

Edward Cone

“The iPad is about as innovative as the toaster.”

We take an expansive view of innovation at this blog, and even the more tightly-focused survey and reports at the core of our project are built on the idea that innovation is not confined to narrow definitions or particular areas of the company. In fact, more than four out of five survey respondents tell us that their firm’s understanding of innovation goes beyond product development to include new business processes and organizational structures.

But we wouldn’t be very good at this whole expansive view thing if we didn’t include contrarian arguments like this one, by Patrick Thibodeau, which begins with the catchy (if highly debatable) line quoted above, and moves quickly to this: “But in tech, every little thing is called “innovative.”

That’s true. Marketing helps pay the bills. But I’d argue that both the iPad and Twitter, which Thibodeau calls a mere upgrade of the postcard, are genuine and meaningful innovations — they let you do things (useful ones, too) that their precursors simply did not.

But the meat of the article is more interesting stuff. It deals with Robert Gordon’s paper, “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over? Faltering Innovation Confronts the Six Headwinds.”

We’ll discuss that one soon. In the meantime, credit Thibodeau with a provocative column, a great opening line, and a good point about technology hype — along with a bit of hype of his own.