the meaning of “innovation”

“The term ‘innovation’ dated back to the sixteenth-century England.  Originally it described the introduction into society of a novelty or new idea…innovation began to fill a descriptive gap.  If an idea begat a [scientific] discovery, and if a discovery begat an [engineered] invention, then an innovation defined the lengthy and wholesale transformation of an idea into a technological product (or process) meant for widespread practical use.  Almost by defintion, a single person, or even a single group, could not alone create an innovation.  The task was too variegated and involved.”

Quoted from The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner.

And in a New York Times review of The Idea Factory by Walter Isaacson, Isaacson nicely summarizes the context of innovation:

“‘The Idea Factory’ explores one of the most critical issues of our time: What causes innovation? Why does it happen, and how might we nurture it? The lesson of Bell Labs is that most feats of sustained innovation cannot and do not occur in an iconic garage or the workshop of an ingenious inventor. They occur when people of diverse talents and mind-sets and expertise are brought together, preferably in close physical proximity where they can have frequent meetings and serendipitous encounters.”

I especially like how this quote lines up neatly with the broader points of two other books I’ve recently read, Where Good Ideas Come From: The History of Natural Innovation and The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators. All three books demonstrate the importance of context, network and attitude required for successfully launching new ideas to market.