Innovation Characteristics

The major characteristic that gives innovation its unique characteristic in the field of creativity is that innovation is purposeful: the innovation fulfills a specific need. Where creativity can occur spontaneously and simply for the joy of being creative, innovation achieves some end or solves some problem. Therefore, the first criteria in determining if a creative act can also be classified as an innovation is if it fulfills a need or improves a situation beyond the need to be creative. As such, innovation can only truly be recognized retroactively - a creative act that attempts to fulfill a need but does not do so is not an innovation. Also, innovation may occur either through a deliberate act or through serendipity. That is to say that the creative act may be undertaken to solve a specific problem beforehand, or it may be later recognized that the creative idea can be used to answer some existing dilemma. In either case an innovation occurs when the creative act is able to solve some problem because it can been used to fulfill a need.

An example of both characteristics occurred with Pfizer. Chemists were working with a chemical compound (Sildenafil) to treat angina. This treatment proved to be ineffective - thus it was not an innovation. However, it was discovered that this chemical was effective in treating male erectile dysfunction, and very successfully marketed as Viagra. Thus, the unexpected use of the drug lead to it becoming an innovation.

The second innovation characteristic is one that moves it beyond creativity: innovation is both the development of new ideas and the adoption of new ideas. Creativity is usually only considered to occur when a new idea is developed. This idea may (and usually is) based on existing ideas, but the idea must in some way be unique. However, innovation can occur when someone adopts an existing idea that is new to the person, organization, or society. Thus, a surgical technique's first use within a hospital is an innovation for that hospital, even if the technique has been used (even widely used) in other hospitals. It may seem that at some point such adoption must stop being considered an innovation -if you are the last person on earth to use sticky notes to keep reminders on, it hardly seems that doing so is an innovation. But such is not the case. When a person or organization applies an idea to a problem for the first time, innovation occurs for that entity. The idea adoption process and the outcomes from adopting the idea all remain virtually the same for the last adopter to implement the idea as the first adopter to implement the idea.

Thus for each adopter it is an innovation. Taking the narrower view that innovation only occurs the first time (or even the first few times) an idea is applied to a problem seems to be artificially and unnecessarily restrictive. With this characteristic, innovation incorporates the concepts of everyday creativity and garden variety creativity - where creativity is not confined to new, unique, and exceptional ideas.

Another reason for including existing idea adoption in innovation's definition is that it recognizes how innovation diffuses through the wider environment. This recognition plays two roles in understanding innovation. The first role is to better our discernment of how innovations are transmitted. Innovations travel through a network of adopters and observers. Without such a network, innovation cannot occur. (This idea will be expanded upon again later in this article.) The second role is to expand our understanding of how innovation can be viewed. It goes beyond the person (or persons) who developed the initial creative idea. It includes those who recognize the idea can be used to fulfill their own needs. This characteristic goes back to innovation's core definition of applying a creative idea to solve a problem. While duplicating an existing idea may not be creative, applying it to a problem you face (even if others have also applied it to the same problem that they face) can be considered to be an innovation. So switching to fluorescent light-bulbs in your house because you saw the energy savings from a neighbor's change would be considered an innovation.

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