Expanding Innovation Parameters through Newness, Familiarity, and Betterment: What is an Innovation?

Expanding Innovation Parameters through Newness, Familiarity, and Betterment: What is an Innovation?

As one of the earlier thought leaders on the newness of a thing, Everett Rogers in his Diffusion of Innovation Theory defined an innovation as “an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption” (Rogers, 2003, p.12). Rogers goes on to clarify that “if an idea seems new to the individual, it is an innovation” (Rogers, 2003 p. 12). The question becomes, should the parameters of this definition of an innovation continue to be limited to the newness factor or should it be expanded to include other elements? To refine the concept further, should this definition be expanded from a management perspective to further distinguish between an innovation and a stagnation?

I offer that the extent to which a thing is declared an innovation should be based on the three concerns of newness, familiarity, and betterment. From this perspective, the definition offered by Rogers is thus expanded to consider the two elements of familiarity and betterment with each concept addressed through a continuum-based lens. The position held is that a phenomenon is never fully one thing or another but instead resting at some point along a conceptual continuum.

On the matter of newness, the location of the “idea, practice, or object” (Rogers, 2003 p.12) hereinafter referred to simply as the thing on the freshness or newness continuum helps to evaluate the first of the three required factors. From this vantage point, the question becomes, to what extent can a thing be considered an innovation without newness? Without newness a thing is merely an aforementioned element. It is existing, old, or dull. While freshness or newness is important, consideration must be taken for the notion that nothing is truly ever wholly new. Everything is a variation of something old or existing. For example, some might say that a Doodle® poll is a new way to conduct an internet-based survey. While the internet application is new, a Doddle® poll is a new version of an old practice of taking a poll. Newness is important in defining an innovation but is it everything?

From the familiarity perspective, the question becomes, to what extent should a thing be considered familiar to gain the autonomy needed to be established as a separate and distinct innovation? A thing can be old having been around for years and still considered an innovation if no one is familiar with it. From this perspective the level of familiarity contributes to classifying it as an innovation.  Thanks to the internet, a thing can transition from new to old from a time perspective in a matter of hours making it easy for billions to have heard of this new thing that days or hours later has lost the initial air of freshness. Yet, familiarity or the extent to which multiple elements have been explored and applied is lacking. Virtual internship has been around for more than six or seven years, for example. It is still an innovation today because the extent to which potential users are familiar with virtual internship is low. From a newness perspective it is old but from a familiarity perspective it is an innovation.

From the betterment perspective, the question becomes, to what extent must the end result be a good thing? If a thing causes harm, is it an innovation? If an idea causes a business to lose money, harm employees, and harm the environment, is it an innovation or is it just a new thing with minimal familiarity that no one should dare try?

The thought here is that Roger’s parameter of the newness factor could be expanded by adding familiarity and betterment to more accurately define a thing as an innovation. The question remains? What makes a thing an innovation? Is it the newness of a thing? Is it that it has been around for a while but it has not been widely used, explored, or tested and is therefore lacking in familiarity? Is it the goodness of a thing or are bad things yielding negative results still technically an innovation due to the newness factor?

The joy of research for me rests in the ability to pose questions and then find evidence-based ways of providing responses to those questions. As researchers, we strive to be creative in both question formation and response acquisition. To those of you of the same mind, consider the challenge in a) posing creative questions with regard to the accepted definition of an innovation and b) finding creative ways to offer an altered yet evidence-based response. The beauty and grandeur of this charge to create new knowledge is that any construct is open for reexamination and potential restructuring – even the mere definition of innovation.

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of Innovations (5thed.). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Visit Our Blog

Visit the Research Process Blog for insights and guidance from University researchers Go >>


 

Recent News