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Purpose – This paper aims to undertake a content analysis of extant definitions of “innovation” as a basis for proposing an integrative definition of organizational “innovation”. Design/methodology/approach – A literature review was used to generate a representative pool of definitions of organizational innovation, including definitions from the different disciplinary literatures of economics, innovation and entrepreneurship, business and management, and technology, science and engineering. A content analysis of these definitions was conducted in order to surface the key attributes mentioned in the definitions, and to profile the descriptors used in relation to each attribute. Findings – The key attributes in the paper present in definitions were identified as: nature of innovation; type of innovation; stages of innovation, social context; means of innovation; and aim of innovation. These attributes are defined, descriptors assigned to them, and both a diagrammatic definition and a textual definition of organizational innovation are proposed. Originality/value – As a concept that is owned and discussed by many business disciplines, “innovation” has many different definitions that align with the dominant paradigm of the respective disciplines. Building on these diverse definitions, this paper proposes a general and integrative definition of organizational “innovation” that encompasses the different perspectives on, and aspects of, innovation, and captures its essence.
Towards a multidisciplinary
definition of innovation
Anahita Baregheh
Bangor University, Bangor, UK
Jennifer Rowley
Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK, and
Sally Sambrook
Bangor University, Bangor, UK
Purpose This paper aims to undertake a content analysis of extant definitions of “innovation” as a
basis for proposing an integrative definition of organizational “innovation”.
Design/methodology/approach A literature review was used to generate a representative pool of
definitions of organizational innovation, including definitions from the different disciplinary
literatures of economics, innovation and entrepreneurship, business and management, and technology,
science and engineering. A content analysis of these definitions was conducted in order to surface the
key attributes mentioned in the definitions, and to profile the descriptors used in relation to each
Findings The key attributes in the paper present in definitions were identified as: nature of
innovation; type of innovation; stages of innovation, social context; means of innovation; and aim of
innovation. These attributes are defined, descriptors assigned to them, and both a diagrammatic
definition and a textual definition of organizational innovation are proposed.
Originality/value As a concept that is owned and discussed by many business disciplines,
“innovation” has many different definitions that align with the dominant paradigm of the respective
disciplines. Building on these diverse definitions, this paper proposes a general and integrative
definition of organizational “innovation” that encompasses the different perspectives on, and aspects
of, innovation, and captures its essence.
Keywords Innovation, Organizational innovation, United Kingdom
Paper type Research paper
This paper focuses on innovation within business organisations and environments. As
marketplaces become more dynamic, interest in innovation, its processes and
management has escalated. Organizations need to innovate in response to changing
customer demands and lifestyles and in order to capitalise on opportunities offered by
technology and changing marketplaces, structures and dynamics. Organizational
innovation can be performed in relation to products, services, operations, processes,
and people. As long ago as Schumpeter, 1950 argued that organisations should
innovate in order to renew the value of their asset endowment. Even before this, whilst
the term innovation may not have been used extensively, processes that are associated
with innovation and economic and technological change were perceived as being
important (Lorenzi et al., 1912; Veblen, 1899; Schumpeter, 1934). Although we recognise
this, in this paper we focus only on explicit definitions of innovation. Zahra and Covin
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Towards a
definition of
Received November 2008
Revised February 2009
Accepted February 2009
Management Decision
Vol. 47 No. 8, 2009
pp. 1323-1339
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/00251740910984578
(1994, p. 183) suggest that “Innovation is widely considered as the life blood of
corporate survival and growth”. Innovation is recognised to play a central role in
creating value and sustaining competitive advantage. Bessant et al. (2005, p. 1366) on
the role of innovation in renewal and growth emphasise “Innovation represents the
core renewal process in any organization. Unless it changes what it offers the world
and the way in which it creates and delivers those offerings it risks its survival and
growth prospects”.
The significance of innovation is not restricted to business organizations. The US
has a Department for Innovation (2008), and in the UK there has been widespread and
ongoing acknowledgement of the importance of innovation. In 2003, the Department of
Trade commented on the link between continuous innovation and jobs, profit and
standard of living: “If UK-based companies fail to innovate, jobs and profits will suffer,
and our standard of living will fall compared with other countries”. More recently, the
UK’s Department for Innovation Universities and Skills (2008) commented on the wider
implications of innovation in the face of globalisation and environmental challenges by
highlighting the importance of all types of innovation in creating and maintaining
competencies and responding to environmental and demographic restrictions. There is
agreement that in order to both sustain their competitive position and to strengthen it,
organizations and economies must innovate and promote innovation. Innovation is a
key policy and strategic issue.
Innovation is tightly coupled to change, as organizations use innovation as a tool in
order to influence an environment or due to their changing environments (internal and
external) (Damanpour, 1991). However, innovation may involve a wide range of
different types of change depending on the organization’s resources, capabilities,
strategies, and requirements. Common types of innovation relate to new products,
materials, new processes, new services, and new organizational forms (Ettlie and Reza,
1992). These different forms of innovation draw to varying extents on different teams,
departments, and professional disciplines. Therefore, innovation is of interest to
practitioners and researchers across a range of business and management disciplines,
and has been discussed variously in, for example, the literature on human resource
management, operations management, entrepreneurship, research and development,
information technology, engineering and product design, and marketing and strategy.
Each of these different disciplines proposes definitions for innovation that align with
the dominant paradigm of the discipline. As Damanpour and Schneider (2006, p. 216)
state: “Innovation is studied in many disciplines and has been defined from different
Whilst there is some overlap between the various definitions of innovation, overall
the number and diversity of definitions leads to a situation in which there is no clear
and authoritative definition of innovation. As early as 1984, Ettlie et al. (1984)
commented on the problems for research and practice of innovation arising from this
disciplinary void. More recently, both Zairi (1994) and Cooper (1998) have suggested
that one of the challenges of innovation is the lack of a common definition, which
undermines understanding of the nature of innovation. A general definition adaptable
to different disciplines and covering different aspects of innovation would be beneficial
as “the term ‘innovation’ is notoriously ambiguous and lacks either a single definition
or measure” (Adams et al., 2006, p. 22).
Our emerging research questions draw on the work of Kahn et al. (2003), p. 197) who
highlight the requirements for clarification of defining innovation “beyond just the
typical extremes of incremental and radical innovation?” Also, Danneels and
Kleinschmidt (2003) emphasize the importance of a better understanding of product
innovativeness. So, what are the key definitions of innovation? How do these vary
between different disciplines? What are the similarities and differences? Is it possible
and helpful to construct a universal definition? In this paper, our aim is to identify one
multi-disciplinary definition of innovation Addressing these research questions, we
suggest that one common clarified definition of innovation will not only provide a
better understanding of the notion of innovation for the diverse range of practitioners
within organisations, but will also enable researchers to collaborate more closely to
more holistically investigate this complex concept. The purpose of this article is to
further develop understanding of the concept of innovation and to arrive at an
integrative definition, based on a content analysis of previous definitions. A particular
and important contribution of this article is that our analysis is based on 60 definitions
from different disciplinary traditions and paradigms, thus providing a first attempt to
capture the “essence” and produce an integrative, cross-disciplinary definition of
innovation. Another important question, but beyond the scope of this article is: How do
definitions of innovation vary over time? We hope to address this in a future paper.
Our paper is structured as follows. First, we present a short literature review,
reflecting on some of the previous definitions of innovation in order to illustrate the
similarities and differences, the next section explains the methodology associated with
the collection of the definitions, and the content analysis of the 60 distinct definitions
that have been identified. This is followed by a findings section, which reports on the
key attributes of the innovation definitions and the frequency of occurrence of
descriptors to describe those attributes. On this basis, a model for the definition of
innovation, together with a succinct textual definition of innovation is proposed. We
conclude with recommendations and a brief discussion of the limitations of the paper.
Literature review
To demonstrate the diversity of the definitions of innovation and to press the case for
the development of an integrative definition, we offer a few examples of definitions of
organizational innovation where some emphasize different aspects of innovation and
others are dedicated to a discipline. Thompson’s (1965, p. 2) early and straightforward
definition simply states: “Innovation is the generation, acceptance and implementation
of new ideas, processes products or services”. A similar definition of innovation was
proposed more recently by West and Anderson (1996) and quoted as recently as 2008
by Wong et al. (2008, p. 2): “Innovation can be defined as the effective application of
processes and products new to the organization and designed to benefit it and its
stakeholders”. On the other hand, Kimberly (1981, p. 108) defines innovation from a
different perspective which embraces different forms of innovation: “There are three
stages of innovation: innovation as a process, innovation as a discrete item including,
products, programs or services; and innovation as an attribute of organizations.” Some
scholars place emphasis on the degree of newness. For instance, quoting Van du Ven
et al. (1986) state that, “As long as the idea is perceived as new to the people involved, it
is an ‘innovation’ even though it may appear to others to be an ‘imitation’ of something
Towards a
definition of
that exists elsewhere”. Newness is also associated with change. Damanpour (1996,
p. 694) provides a detailed definition of innovation, which is much quoted:
Innovation is conceived as a means of changing an organization, either as a response to
changes in the external environment or as a pre-emptive action to influence the environment.
Hence, innovation is here broadly defined to encompass a range of types, including new
product or service, new process technology, new organization structure or administrative
systems, or new plans or program pertaining to organization members.
Other variations in the definition of innovation arise from different disciplinary
perspectives. For example in knowledge management, the focus is on knowledge being
vital for innovation or even a type of innovation. As Plessis (2007, p. 21) notes:
Innovation as the creation of new knowledge and ideas to facilitate new business outcomes,
aimed at improving internal business processes and structures and to create market driven
products and services. Innovation encompasses both radical and incremental innovation.
In technologically related definitions, the main focus is on innovation being a product
related to new technology (Nord and Tucker, 1987).
This study aims to:
.Identify the recurring attributes of “innovation” that are included in diverse
definitions of innovation.
.Propose both a diagrammatic model and a simple textual definition which
together act as a basis for summarizing the essence of “innovation”.
Gathering definitions
The first stage in the research was to collect as many definitions as possible of the term
“innovation”. In this process, it was important to achieve representation over time and
across disciplines. The definitions were gathered through a thorough literature review
of articles on innovation, and innovation types and processes, using online databases,
journals and books. In addition, as the number of definitions identified in some areas is
far less than others, the relevant journals for those specific areas were further reviewed
and the text of each article on innovation was examined to see whether they proposed a
new definition; for example, in the area of organization studies, key journals such as
Management Science,Journal of Management Studies,Organization Science and
Administrative Science Quarterly were reviewed. However, in general, articles in these
journals refer to definitions of innovation proposed elsewhere rather than offering their
own definition.
Ultimately some 60 definitions of innovation were collected from the various
disciplinary literatures, as shown in the following:
.Business and management: 18 definitions from 1966 to 2007.
.Economics: nine definitions from 1934 to 2004.
.Organization studies: six definitions from 1953 to 2008.
.Innovation and entrepreneurship: nine definitions from 1953 to 2007.
.Technology, science and engineering: 13 definitions from 1969 to 2005.
.Knowledge management: three definitions from 1999 to 2007.
.Marketing: two definitions from 1994 to 2004.
Table I presents the authors, the year and the discipline of the gathered definitions.
Full citations of each of these papers are listed in the references at the end of the article.
A content analysis was conducted of the collected definitions in order to surface the
key attributes mentioned in these definitions considering the disciplinary variations,
and to profile the descriptors used in relation to each attribute.
Content analysis is defined as “a research technique for the objective, systematic
and quantitative description of the manifest content of communication” (Berelson,
1952, p. 8), or “any technique for making inferences by objectively and systematically
identifying specified characteristics of messages” (Holsti, 1969, p. 14). We considered
the definitions of innovation to be forms of communication and messages and we were
seeking to identify the specified characteristics or attributes of these. Various
phenomena can be counted in a content analysis, including, for example, actors, words
or themes. What we were counting were the words, rather than authors or disciplines,
although these do feature in our analysis. Content analysis was selected as the most
appropriate as it “is an approach to the analysis of documents and texts ... that seeks
to quantify content in terms of predetermined categories and in a systematic and
replicable manner” (Bryman, 2001, p. 177). Definitions of innovation are considered as
sections of text, which are amenable to deconstruction into component attributes,
which can be categorized and counted. However, from our search of the literature, there
were no predetermined categories available. Therefore, we used a modified approach to
content analysis, which enabled the construction of categories. This is similar to
qualitative or ethnographic content analysis (Altheide, 1996; Bryman, 2001), where
there is an emphasis on allowing categories to emerge out of the text. However, the
categories emerged through transparent quantification (as demonstrated in the
following) rather than the researchers simply generating these. In addition, care was
taken with coding (to ensure discrete dimensions and mutually exclusive categories)
and interpretation of meaning to ensure consistency, reliability and validity.
To be more precise, the following steps have been taken in the content analysis:
(1) Classification of definitions of innovation by their disciplinary orientation.
(2) Cleaning the text in order to simplify the word frequency count process. For
example, the word “process” has been used as two different concepts: process as
a type of innovation; and, process as procedures or set of routines. To resolve
this complication in the content analysis, “process” as a type of innovation
remained the same but “process” as routine was changed to “procedure”.
Another example is the words “technological” and “technical”, both referring to
the same type of innovation; they have been used interchangeably and hence
occurrences of these two terms have been merged and in the proposed definition
the preferred term is “technical”.
(3) Counting of word frequencies The number of times words appeared in each
set of definitions (disciplinary group) was counted using the word frequency
query option of NVIVO8 software.
Towards a
definition of
Economy Business and management Technology, science and engineering
(Schumpeter, 1934) (Karger and Murdick, 1966) (Myers and Marquis, 1969)
(Mansfield, 1963) (Knight, 1967) (Roy Rothwell and Gardiner, 1985)
(C. Freeman, 1974) (Caroll, 1967) (During, 1986)
(Nelson and Winter, 1982; OECD, 1981) (Becker and Whisler, 1967) (Nord and Tucker, 1987)
(Nelson and Winter, 1982) (Shepard, 1967) (Badawy, 1988)
(Dosi, 1990) (Daft, 1978) (Damanpour and Gopalakrishnan, 1998)
(Baumol, 2002) (Van de Ven, 1986) (Udwadia, 1990)
(Chen et al., 2004) (Tushman and Nadler, 1986) (Sundbo, 1996)
(Roper and Love, 2004) (Lewis and Seibold, 1993) (Dunphy et al., 1996)
(Wolfe, 1994) (Tang, 1998)
Innovation and entrepreneurship (Brown, 1994) (Figueroa and Conceicao, 2000)
(Barnett, 1953) (Damanpour, 1996) (Smits, 2002)
(Drucker, 1985) (Klein and Sorra, 1996) (Francis and Bessant, 2005)
(Kuhn, 1985) (McGrath et al., 1996)
(Urabe and Child, 1988) (Mone et al., 1998) Organization study
(Lundvall, 1992) (Trott, 2005) (Barnett, 1953)
(Cumming, 1998) (J. Freeman and Engel, 2007) (Thompson, 1965)
(Salavou, 2004) (Damanpour, 1996) (Zaltman et al., 1973)
(Alves et al., 2005) (Kimberly, 1981}
(John Bessant and Tidd, 2007) Marketing (M.A. West and Farr, 1991)
Management (Porter, 1990) (Garcı
´a-Morales et al., 2008)
(Swan et al., 1999) (Berthon et al., 2004)
(Cardinal et al., 2001)
(Plessis, 2007)
Table I.
List of sources of
definitions categorized by
(4) Grouping of words with the same stem (e.g. implement, implementing, and
implementation) in the word frequency results.
(5) Elimination of the words, which appeared only once or twice in their set of
definitions, or words, which are of no value, such as pronouns. It should be
mentioned that for those disciplines that have fewer definitions such as
knowledge management or marketing, the elimination process was performed
more flexibly and cautiously. For example if the word “product” (that has been
repeated frequently in the other disciplines) was represented in knowledge
management definitions only once, it was not eliminated because its lack of
repetition is a result of the few number of definitions in this discipline.
(6) Identification of the innovation attributes from the word frequency counts. This
process commenced with the definitions of innovation in business-management
and economics disciplines as they have the greatest number of definitions in
this study.
(7) Clustering of the descriptors used in connection with each attribute for each
discipline as shown in Table II.
(8) Cross disciplinary analysis of the descriptors used for each attribute. For each
attribute those words that have been used in common between a number of
disciplines (suggesting similarity) were selected, and are highlighted in bold in
Table II, and extracted and displayed in Table III.
(9) The proposal of a diagrammatic and text definition of innovation.
It should be noted in Table III, the counts for some descriptors exceed the total number
of definitions; for example “new” has been repeated 76 times where there are only 60
definitions of innovation. This is due to the fact that the word “new” has appeared in
some definitions more than once, for example:
Innovation concerns processes of learning and discovery about new products, new production
processes and new forms of economic organization, about which, ex ante, economic actors often
possess only rather unstructured beliefs on some unexploited opportunities, and which, ex post,
are generally checked and selected, in non centrally planned economies, by some competitive
interactions, of whatever form in product market (Dosi, 1990, p. 299).
Hence, out of the 76 times the term “new” has been used, on 34 occasions there has been
repetition of the word in the same definition. Similarly, the term “organization” has
been repeated more than once in some of the definitions, for instance:
Innovation is a process that follows invention, being separated from invention in time.
Invention is the creative act, while innovation is the first or early employment of an idea by one
organization or a set of organizations with similar goals (Becker and Whisler, 1967, p. 463).
Table IV summarises the total number of occurrences of words in the database of
definitions, relative to the total number of definitions in which that word appears.
Findings and discussion
Tables II and III show the attributes of innovation definitions that have been identified
through the content analysis. These six attributes form the basis for an integrative
definition of innovation, since they have been surfaced from key definitions drawn
from different disciplinary areas. It is important to note that these attributes are all in
Towards a
definition of
Business and
management Economy
Innovation and
management Marketing Organization study
Nature New, 16
Change, 4
New, 24
Improved, 4
New, 10
Change, 2
New, 11
Challenge, 2
Change, 2
New, 2
Improve, 1
New, 3
Change, 2
Improve, 1
New, 4
Type Product, 7
Process, 5
Service, 5
Program, 2
Product, 9
Process, 6
Service, 3
Technical, 3
Product, 4
Service, 4
Technical, 3
Product, 10
Service, 8
Process, 7
Technical, 3
Product, 2
Incremental, 1
Process, 1
Radical, 1
Service, 1
Technical, 1
Product, 2
Process, 1
Service, 1
Product, 4
Process, 3
Service, 3
Stages Adoption, 3
Creation, 4
Design, 2
Implementation, 2
Development, 2
Production, 4
Introduction, 3
Manufacturing, 3
Development, 2
Commercialization, 3
Generation, 3
Application, 2
evelopment, 2
Implementation, 2
Acceptance, 1
Creation, 1
Adoption, 7
Development, 3
Generation, 7
Implementation, 2
ntroduction, 2
Commercialization, 4
Creation, 2
Creation, 2
Decision, 1
Design, 1
Development, 1
Learning, 1
Communication, 1
Adoption, 3
Application, 2
Development, 2
Program, 2
Environment Organization, 7
Firm, 6
Customer, 2
Developer, 2
External, 2
System, 2
Users, 2
Organization, 2
Actor, 1
Consumer, 1
Customer, 1
Social system, 1
Organization, 2
Users, 2
Customers, 1
Employee, 2
Organization, 12 Group, 1
Internal, 1
Organization, 1
Organization, 1 Firm, 5
Organization, 4
Group, 2
Unit, 2
Means Idea, 5
Resource, 4
Invention, 3
Technology, 3
Investment, 2
Market, 2
Creativity, 1
Economy, 2
Equipment, 2
Idea, 2
Industry, 2
Market, 2
Technology, 2
Idea, 5
Creativity, 5
Invention, 2
Innovativeness, 1
Market, 6
Technology, 6
Creativity, 4
Invention, 4
Idea, 2
Innovativeness, 1
Knowledge, 2
Idea, 1
Market, 1
Technology, 1
Invention, 1
Idea, 3
Innovativeness, 3
Aims Superior, 4
Advantage, 2
Value, 2
Competition, 2
Influence, 2
Sustain, 2
Differentiation, 2
Economic, 2
Compete, 3
Economy, 2
Need, 2
Compete, 2
Success, 2
Economic, 2
Success, 2
Differentiation, 1
Business, 1 Superior, 1
Table II.
Result of first phase of
innovation content
analysis, word frequency
count based on sector and
strong evidence not merely in discursive expositions on innovation management, but
also in the definitions of the basic concept of innovation. These attributes are defined
as follows:
.Nature of innovation refers to the form of innovation as in something new or
.Type of innovation refers to the kind of innovation as in the type of output or the
result of innovation, e.g. product or service.
Attribute Word frequency count
Nature of innovation New, 76
Change, 10
Improve, 6
Type of innovation Product, 40
Service, 25
Process, 23
Technical, 10
Aim of innovation Competition, 7
Success, 6
Economy, 6
Superiority, 5
Differentiation, 3
Advantage, 2
Value, 2
Social context Organization, 29
Firm, 11
Customer, 4
Group, 3
Unit, 2
Developer, 2
Employee, 2
External environment 2
Social system, 2
Workforce, 1
Consumer, 1
Internal environment, 1
Means of innovation Idea, 22
Invention, 12
Technology, 12
Market, 11
Creativity, 10
Stages of innovation Adoption, 13
Development, 13
Creation, 9
Implementation, 6
Commercialization, 7
Summary of attributes frequency Type of innovation, 98
Nature of innovation, 92
Means of innovation, 69
Innovation and people, 60
Stages of innovation, 48
Aim of innovation, 31
Table III.
Summary of word
frequencies grouped by
Towards a
definition of
.Stages of innovation refers to all the steps taken during an innovation process
which usually start from idea generation and end with commercialization.
.Social context refers to any social entity, system or group of people involved in
the innovation process or environmental factors affecting it.
.Means of innovation refers to the necessary resources (e.g. technical, creative,
financial) that need to be in place for innovation.
.Aim of innovation is the overall result that the organizations want to achieve
through innovation.
In arriving at this final list of attributes two issues have been taken into consideration:
(1) One of the attributes of innovation, which only occurs in three of definitions
relates to the time of innovation implementation or adoption in the context of
specific industries. In this analysis, there are two definitions, which have paid
attention to time of innovation by mentioning first or early use of innovation and
there is one definition, which highlights the first use of innovation by the
organization adopting it. For example, Rothwell (1992, p. 221) quotes Freeman as:
The technical, design, manufacturing, management and commercial activities involved
in the marketing of a new (or improved) product or the first use of a new (or improved)
manufacturing process or equipment.
Owing to the limited number of definitions considering the time of innovation,
this attribute has been excluded from the definition proposed in this study.
Total number of occurrences
Number of occurrences in
distinct definitions
New 76 42
Organization 29 15
Product 40 33
Firm 11 4
Service 25 21
Idea 22 18
Invention 12 8
Superior 5 2
Improve 6 4
Process 23 21
Technical 10 8
Market 11 9
Creativity 10 8
Change 10 9
Implement 6 5
Group 3 2
Development 13 12
Commercialization 7 6
Technology 12 11
Value 2 1
Economic 6 5
Success 6 5
Table IV.
Total word frequency
versus number of times
words has appeared by
(2) Another term which occurs quite frequently is the word “process” which during
the content analysis was replaced by “procedure” for simplification. Usage of
this word was an indication of the fact that innovation is a process not a discrete
(3) Analysis of Table III demonstrates that in defining innovation, scholars have
paid more attention to type, means, social context and stages of innovation and
have made relatively limited reference to the aim of innovation. This may
potentially be evidence of a serious disconnection between the rhetoric of
innovation and its strategic context. On the other hand, most research reports
and articles on innovation start by explaining the strategic importance of
innovation. So, thus perhaps this is simply an oversight in the definitions or a
taken-for-granted assumption.
On the basis of the key attributes of definitions of innovation and the descriptors used
by those definitions to characterise the attributes, a diagrammatic definition of
“innovation” is proposed in Figure 1. The diagram incorporates the six attributes
identified as being common to the various disciplinary definitions of innovation. We do
not suggest that this is the actual or ideal flow, or that the flow is linear. We do not give
greater importance to “stages” or “aim” but simply suggest that these are six common,
and therefore important, attributes of innovation. The model seeks to present the
“essence” of innovation, no matter the organizational or disciplinary context. The six
components of the model do not only describe the possible flow of the innovation
process, they also indicate various starting points within the innovation process. This
might be influenced by disciplinary background. For example, engineers might begin
with a focus on the technical possibilities of a new product, whereas as marketing
specialists might concentrate on identifying potential new markets. Individuals within
organisations may choose different starting points on the journey to innovation. The
chosen starting point might also have a strong relationship to the way innovation is
achieved, or not.
In order to capture and articulate the diagrammatic definition in Figure 1 in words
by means of interpretation, we propose that:
Figure 1.
A diagrammatic definition
of innovation
Towards a
definition of
Innovation is the multi-stage process whereby organizations transform ideas into
new/improved products, service or processes, in order to advance, compete and
differentiate themselves successfully in their marketplace.
Our definition begins with the term “multi stage process” as most of the definitions
presented earlier have highlighted that innovation is not a discrete act and is a process.
Secondly, we focus on business organisations in this paper, although we have not
explicitly articulated in our textual definition that innovation can occur in various
social entities and contexts. Third, as shown in the diagram, many definitions have
focused on the means of innovation, that is the ways in which ideas have been
transformed into new, improved and changed entities, whether products or services,
for example, for new markets. Therefore, a “multi stage process” together with
“transforming ideas into new/improved products ... not only captures all the stages
that different scholars have identified or referred to in their definition of innovation, it
also highlights the fact that ideas are used and transformed (together with other means
of innovation) to result in “New/improved products, services or processes”, the main
types of innovation identified together with the level of change they involve. Finally,
although not often explicitly mentioned in extant definitions, we include the aim of
innovation as “successfully advancing” (referring to process innovations) and
“competing and differentiating” to reflect both the overall strategic aim of innovation
and the potentially diverse social and environmental contexts in which innovation
occurs. These diagrammatic and textual definitions, which seek to subsume and
supersede earlier definitions with their specific disciplinary biases, recognize that an
all-embracing definition of innovation needs to encompass a number of aspects of the
essence of innovation.
Conclusions and recommendations
Innovation, and how it is managed, is a key strategic issue. It is of interest to both
practitioners and researchers across a range of business and management disciplines.
Having conducted a comprehensive content analysis, we have identified how different
disciplines view innovation from a different standpoint and propose distinct
definitions. It could be argued that each discipline requires it own discipline-specific
definition. However, as business and research become more inter- and
multi-disciplinary, we suggest there is a need for a more generic, integrative
definition. This is to enable the development of common meaning and shared
understanding of the various dimensions of innovation, identified in our proposed
definition. We suggest that the number and diversity of current definitions of
innovation creates ambiguity and confusion and we support McAdam et al.’s (2004)
view that the absence of a consensual definition of innovation is problematic.
To address this, on the basis of a content analysis of existing definitions of
innovation, extracted from a number of different disciplines, we have proposed a
succinct and arguably intuitive textual definition of innovation. The text version of the
definition is supplemented by a diagrammatic definition, which identifies the
descriptors that can be used to provide a more detailed definition. Such a definition
should assist in crossing disciplinary boundaries, and act as a basis for more
transparent sharing and transfer of knowledge relating to innovation and its processes.
The objective in proposing a general definition of innovation has been to seek to
offer a multidisciplinary definition for a multidisciplinary concept. There is evident
need for such a definition and it has the potential to inform both practice and research.
A consensus on the definition of innovation offers a way forward for the identification
of innovation within organizations and countries. The typology of innovation, implicit
in our diagrammatic definition offers a means of classifying innovations. For example,
there is the opportunity to classify definitions on the basis of whether they bring
forward something new, or improve an existing aspect of the organization (nature).
Similarly, innovations may be classified as product, service, process or technical (type),
and the resources or means used to drive and support innovation can be identified in
respect of the balance of technology, ideas, inventions, creativity, and market (means).
This type of analysis would be useful for businesses in strategy and planning, and
would offer a useful framework for comparing different innovation processes in
different organizations, towards knowledge-building.
However, there are limitations with our paper. As a conceptual paper, we have
produced our textual and diagrammatic definitions drawing on existing theoretical
work from a range of business disciplines. In addition, although beyond the scope of
this paper, we have noted there is evidence that the nature and focus of innovation has
changed over time. Therefore, we propose adopting a chronological perspective in
future research to explore how meanings of innovation have evolved, generally and
specifically within disciplines. There is further empirical work to do to validate the
proposed definition in terms of its suitability, usefulness and acceptability across
different disciplinary groups and this is a clear agenda for further research.
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Further reading
Jayanthi, S. and Kingshuk, S.K. (1998), “Innovation implementation in high technology
manufacturing: a chaos-theoretic empirical analysis”, Journal of Operations Management,
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Corresponding author
Anahita Baragheh can be contacted at:
Towards a
definition of
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