What is Innovation?

Common Characteristics of Innovative Communities

In case you may have missed it, the word “innovation” seems to be just about everywhere these days. Slogans, mission statements, taglines, all touting that their newest ideas are going to revolutionize the way of the world. Even Nissan quickly jumped on board, coining the phrase, “Innovation that excites,” to describe their automotive operations.

In 2012, the Wall Street Journal published an article that discussed if there was any correlation between the fact that the word “innovation” had been rapidly increasing in usage in recent years, while simultaneously decreasing in its actual meaning.

Unfortunately, much like semantic satiation, overusing a word can strip it of all meaning, rendering it a useless concept that’s thrown around carelessly. It’s become a buzzword, one that’s equal parts inspiring and confusing. After seeing how much it can change the world, the concept of innovation has become a filler word in recent years.

In order to really understand how innovation can strengthen and build a resilient community, it’s important to reestablish what innovation really is — and what it’s not.

So, what is innovation?

The Definition of Innovation

According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, the word innovation is defined as, “a new idea, method, or device; the introduction of something new”.

The word is originally derived from the Latin verb, “innovare”, meaning “to renew”. Innovation is the concept around improving or replacing something, bringing it up to date by applying new processes, implementing new techniques, or identifying new ideas to create something of value.

When it’s applied in a business sense, a company will implement something new — whether that’s an idea, a service offering, or a product — all with the goal of boosting their bottom line. Think launching new products, reimagining existing products or services, or solving customer services requests in a brand new way.

But despite the varying concepts and definitions that surround the topic of innovation, there’s one thing that remains true: innovation plays a crucial role in any successful business community.

Common Characteristics of an Innovative Community

When you think of the Silicon Valleys, the New York Citys, the Chicagos of the world, it’s easy to think of them as innovation hubs. But what actually makes them centralized locations for identifying, developing, and growing new ideas? Here are the five characteristics a community must have in place in order to foster invention and innovation.


If there’s one thing that unites innovative communities across the board, it’s that level of risk-taking that’s required of its participants. Progress isn’t stagnant. In fact, the words, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done things,” is the antithesis of innovation. New ideas require out-of-the-box thinking to be properly developed and executed!

Active Listening & Communication

Transparency through communication is another crucial characteristic. Sharing insights and actively listening to all the voices in the room enable a group to learn together. Communication encourages all involved to share a sense of ownership of the new idea or concept, and fosters a collaborative environment.


Collaboration is at the heart of community. Working together towards a common goal or opportunity is the only way innovation gets off the ground and becomes a reality. It enhances the implementation process, offering joint ownership of a new idea or concept, and spreads the associated risks of the idea with the larger group. There’s something to be said for the phrase, “Two heads are better than one”.


New research has shown that diversity can unlock innovation and drive market growth. There’s something to be said about coming together with a group of individuals of all backgrounds, life experiences, and environments, each bringing their unique perspective into discussion. Diverse and inclusive communities create more unlikely ideas, enhancing the creativity of the group as a whole and leading to better decision-making and problem-solving opportunities all around!


Adaptability helps a business to practice flexibility, handling changes as they come. Innovation requires a certain level of risk, which means that not every idea is going to be successful from the start. Learning from past experiences and allowing that information to shape future iterations of an idea is essential in experiencing innovative success.

Benefits of Embracing Innovation

Innovation is a foundational element of any successful community because it inspires collaboration, fosters creativity, and drives talent and economic growth. It offers forward momentum in all areas of life, driving away stale complacency and stagnant situations for businesses and families alike. Innovation breeds inspiration, leading to incredible things all across a given geographic area.

How Innovate Marquette Can Help

Innovate Marquette is dedicated to providing valuable and accessible resources to innovators, entrepreneurs, and local businesses in the Marquette area. By identifying, nurturing, and cultivating new and innovative ideas, together we can uplift Marquette’s unique business ecosystem, driving new growth and success into every corner of our community. Learn more about how we’re doing it. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Innovation:

What does innovation really mean?

Innovation is defined as, “a new idea, method, or device; the introduction of something new”. The word is originally derived from the Latin verb, “innovare”, meaning “to renew”.

What are the four types of innovation?

The four types of innovation are:

  1. Architectural Innovation: This is a redesigned method to move existing concepts, products, or services into a new market, all based on previous knowledge and experience.
  2. Disruptive Innovation: This is a new concept, product, or service that disrupts the existing market with the help of existing resources and knowledge.
  3. Incremental Innovation: This is continuous innovation, building on existing knowledge to keep improving existing concepts, products, or services.
  4. Radical Innovation: This is the opposite of incremental innovation, because it takes new ideas and combines them with existing ones to reimagine something in a whole new way.

What is an Innovation Hub?

An “innovation hub” refers to an area where there are a variety of business generation initiatives happening, all of which are encouraging individuals, startups, and more established companies to interact, collaborate, and innovate together. In many instances, these innovation hubs significantly improve the development of technology-based companies who show high growth potential, thanks to their access to resources and opportunities available within the community.

What does the term “business ecosystem” mean?

An entrepreneurial or business ecosystem is a diverse set of individuals, businesses, and systems that support the creation and growth of new opportunities for the larger community. In order for an ecosystem to succeed, it has to have four important elements: people, technology, capital, and infrastructure. Each entity in the ecosystem affects and is affected by others, creating a constantly evolving relationship between each other that must be characterized by flexibility and adaptability in order to survive. The most successful entrepreneurial ecosystems act as talent magnets and innovation incubators, leading to greater economic and populace growth within the geographical region.

What’s an example of innovation in business?

When innovation is applied in a business sense, a company implements a new process, a new idea, a new service offering, or a new product, to meet and exceed their target customer’s expectations, and consequently improving their overall bottom line. When a company or business encourages brainstorming, collaboration, or design thinking with their employees, incredible things can happen.