Innovation or product development? This question comes up in conversation all the time, as well as ‘is innovation the hardest word to define?’ It’s one of those ‘chicken or egg’ questions that can’t easily be answered. It depends who’s asking and in what context. As you change, so do I.*

Online dictionaries don’t offer much help in the way of satisfactory definitions:

Definition of innovation (1)
1: the introduction of something new
2: a new idea, method, or device: novelty
Miriam-Webster

Definition of innovation (2)
The process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay.
 To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products. In business, innovation often results when ideas are applied by the company in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers.
Business Dictionary

Based on these and similar definitions, ‘innovation’ means ‘something new in a new place at a new time’.

On this basis, we could take an old idea and apply it to a new situation. Pragmatically, it fits the definitions above, but it feels sort of underwhelming. A bit like taking a space rocket that made it to the moon and hailing as innovation the newer version that’ll get to Mars. Or giving an electric car a useable range and calling that innovation. Maybe it is: it depends who’s asking and who’s telling.

In 2015, the then President of the UK Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, gave a speech called ‘Magna Carta: the Bible of the English Constitution or a disgrace to the English nation?’ If you didn’t learn about the history of the Magna Carta at school, or know what the agreement did for social structure and constitutional development, it’s worth 20 minutes of your time. Have a look here.

Neuberger argues that changing times demand different judicial attitudes: “…yesterday’s judges came of age in the respectful and conventional forties and fifties, whereas today’s judges grew up in the questioning and disrespectful sixties and seventies, and that affects the judicial outlook quite a bit… It would have been absurd for judges at the time of Magna Carta to take into account rights which we take for granted today, and by the same token judges today should take such rights into account. That is not to say that judges should take every modern fad into account; on the contrary, they have a duty to be a steadying influence.”

In a new age, a new perspective is called for. As time passes and attitudes change, so do demands and necessary solutions. Technological and systemic solutions respond to and drive consumer need. Innovation could be a subject of semantic argument forever: whether we really need to agree its definition is debatable, but it will always be required to deliver new things / value / solutions / opportunities.

Which brings me to Luton.

Luton is a large town about 30 miles north of London, with an averagely successful football team, one of the country’s major airports, and a long history of hat-making. It has an institutional body responsible for the cultural development of the town, that has developed a title to position its campaign. I wonder if it might be the best positioning statement you’ve ever seen for innovation: “as you change, so do I.”

Adapting to a moving situation with a new product, or transforming a consumer’s experience by showing them a new opportunity, can both be wrapped into the single phrase: “as you change, so do I.”

Innovation, invention, product development, concept transposition or technology transfer – I don’t think it matters too much what you choose to call it. But to adapt to and drive a new need is what we believe innovation must do. And for that, you have to know what to change into – we call it innovation strategy.

*As Luton Culture says, “as you change, so do I”.

#room44innovates Future thinking. Future proofing. It’s what we do.

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