At Norwell Consulting we have begun writing a book about innovation.  From time to time we will include in the blog some our findings from the research we are doing for the book. 

A necessary first step in writing the book is to identify a useful definition of the word innovation.  The dictionary says simply that innovation is “the introduction of something new.”  While accurate, this definition is not helpful to us if we want to understand the modern process of innovation. 

Let’s turn to Thomas Edison, the foremost innovator of his time.   Unfortunately, the word innovation as we use it today was apparently not in vogue in Edison’s time.  However, he did describe a process that seems like innovation to us.  In response to a question about the success of his inventions, he answered,

“The first step is an intuition and comes with a burst.  Then difficulties arise.  This thing gives out then that.  ‘Bugs’ as such little faults and difficulties are called, show themselves. Months of intense watching, study and labor are required before commercial success—or failure—is certainly reached.”

We can see in this description Edison’s continual drive to “commercial success.” And in time, as the process of taking inventions from the laboratory to the marketplace grew into prominence across America, the word innovation evolved to describe this activity. 

Harold Evans, author of They Made America, sees innovation as a key component in America’s success.  “Innovation has turned out to be the distinguishing characteristic of the United States.”   And then he added, “It is not simply invention; it is inventiveness put to use.”  Others refer to “inventiveness put to use”  as “practical innovation.” 

Stay tuned and we’ll keep you up to date about how our research is progressing.