What is innovation?

In our research on innovation spaces, we needed to arrive at a definition of innovation that fit the spaces we were observing. It was not entrepreneurship, as that would be too narrow and not explain many of the uses. Rather, it was about problem solving, and making use of these spaces to find answers to individual questions in ways that were superior than trying to do it alone, on the internet, or otherwise. The works of three authors in particular resonated – Matt Kingdon, Ken Robinson, and Steven Johnson. Here are some snippets…

  • Kingdon — “Fundamentally, innovation is about how human beings get inspired to look in new places, work together and react to the unwelcome and the unexpected” (The Science of Serendipity: How to Unlock the Promise of Innovation).
  • Robinson – Innovation has its place on a continuum that leads from imagination, the process of bringing to mind things that are not present to our senses, to creativity, the process of developing original ideas that have value, to innovation, the process of putting new ideas into practice (Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative).
  • Johnson – Demonstrates how English coffee houses played a role in the flowering of creativity and innovation seen in the Age of Enlightenment, bursts the myth of the solitary lone creative genius coming up with an invention or innovation working all by him/herself, and offers many other insights on the conditions that produce innovation. An excellent summary is his Ted Talk or book animation.

Together, these authors formed the basis for how we are approaching the types of innovation that take place in coworking spaces, makerspaces, tech hubs, and others, the reasons why people are coming to these places, and the processes that foster creativity and innovation in ways that are not found anywhere else.