Innovation: What is it and how can we measure it?

Psychologist Hannah Johnson reports on Carter Corson's role in a European-wide research project on innovation

It’s early May 2016 and I’m in the Netherlands with 38 other people from businesses and universities across Europe. We are working on a tool to help identify people’s ability to innovate.

But what does innovation mean? Nowadays, it’s a word used so liberally in business, not to mention a quality that most employers favour in their recruits. No wonder there are so many discussions around its definition.

Speak to specialists in the manufacturing and service industries and each will give you a slightly different take on what it means to be innovative.

The Oxford Dictionary says that to innovate is to ‘make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas or products’. However, it seems that definition fails to incorporate the creative element of innovation – the part where a person generates ideas about what might be created or changed, before they actually go about doing it.

Through an extensive review of the literature at the early stages of this project, our university colleagues arrived here: “Innovation is the ability to create, introduce, adapt and/or apply beneficial novelty at any organisational level.”

Then, they took that a step further, looking at research on innovation to create a model called ‘innovative capacity’. This is the idea that innovation is too complex to be labelled as something you either have or you don’t – it’s a combination of things.

Creativity is necessary for idea generation, critical thinking is needed for evaluation of those ideas (what is feasible and realistic) and then innovation management is necessary to bring ideas to life and see the change through to completion.

No matter what definition we choose, what we can all agree on is this: no matter what innovation looks like or how people go about it, it’s necessary for any organisations' continued growth and improvement.

So, we like the sound of innovation, we think it’s useful but how do we know people have the capacity for it? Let’s go back to the Netherlands. We’re here for our 5th partner meeting, developing the FINCODA Innovation Barometer.

It’s been two years in the making and the statistical validation of the tool has now begun. By the end of the summer the final version of the barometer will be ready for piloting and we will start that process by using this tool with some of our own clients. Once the tool is published next year, it will be freely available to organisations.

Keep up to date with the FINCODA project by following us on Twitter @FINCODA2015