Innovation: What does that mean?

Having tweeted about innovation the other day (Nov 19, 2015), and also recently completed my first assignment on ‘Innovation and open education’ for my current Open University course (H818), I thought it might be useful to reflect  a bit more on the question of “What makes something an innovation?”.

Innovation has several definitions (OED), the most relevant for my consideration are:

Innovation {noun}

“A change made in the nature or fashion of anything; something newly introduced; a novel practice, method, etc.”

“The action of innovating; the introduction of novelties; the alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms.”

“The action of introducing a new product into the market; a product newly brought on to the market.”

Whilst we are at it, we also better look at:

Innovate (verb}:

“To change (a thing) into something new; to alter; to renew.”

“To bring in or introduce novelties; to make changes in something established; to introduce innovations.”

“To bring in (something new) the first time; to introduce as new.”

Innovative {adjective}:

“Having the character or quality of innovating.”

My tweet certainly showed something new (I believe), and quite a novelty as it used a credit card as a template and transformed this into a new use; i.e. a gauge for determining infill and sward height in a 3G sports pitch.

3G gauge

Gauge to measure infill depth and synthetic grass length

So, yes, definitely an innovation and these type of products can sometimes be overlooked as innovative because they appear so simple; I think that is the beauty sometimes of innovative products; simple, effective and elegant are often the best fit for purpose products and I think this fits the bill. (Disclaimer: I have no personal incentive to use this product as an example or to give this item a positive or negative comment, it’s just an informed and impartial observation)

If we jump ahead a little (see below) then I think this product would be termed a ‘Sustaining innovation’ rather than one of the other extensions of the term because it certainly meets the needs of users. It can simply and effectively determine if there is adequate infill material within the 3G carpet to maintain optimum playing performance and also to determine the extent of exposed synthetic leaf which would indicate either a certain amount of wear that has taken place or infill top-up is needed. This simple product can now be seen to positively influence the management of the surface and help to extend the life of these very expensive synthetic carpets. Who would have thought so much use could be gained from such a simple item?

So what about my OU project that I am developing?

It’s an online sharing and collaborative web platform to enhance the learning process, with the concept being readily applied to any learning material, although I have chosen the new Level 2 Apprenticeship Standard of  a Sports Turf Operative for the Groundsmanship trailblazer (SFA) to provide a focus for the platform as this is an open standard.

The aim of the project, in the given timescales, is to “demonstrate the benefits, and limitations, of a sharing, collaborative open learning environment [which] offers an opportunity to better engage people into the grounds care industry, in particular within the context of Groundsmanship. If the project can enthuse individuals into an open, self-determined, approach to learning then I will consider this to have been a success.” (Gray, 2015)

Here’s another word that’s just cropped up that will need defining ‘self-determined’, so that’s for another blog on my to-do list!

So why do I think my project is innovative?

It’s challenging and changing the approach to an established way of learning in the grounds care industry, using Web 2.0 technologies to explore effective networking for sharing and collaboration) within an open learning environment, allowing better insight into the knowledge, skills and behaviors’ required in the industry and to create further opportunities for others.

Supporting this argument, I believe, is the stance of Manual Castells (2002) who states that “In an e-conomy based on knowledge, information, and intangibles (such as image and connections), innovation is the primordial function. Innovation depends on knowledge generation facilitated by open access to information. And information is online.” (My emphasis as the course is exploring openness, especially in education and learning)

Castells also sees that a collective effort, through a network, drives innovation  “..the process of innovation in the e-conomy is gradually migrating to open-source networks of cooperation …” with innovation driving the economy with new business opportunities.

I think, therefore, that it’s reasonable to say that my approach is innovative.

Innovation: a bit extra

Innovation can be a bit more nuanced than just described. If anyone has taken the OU course T307, ‘Innovation: designing for a sustainable future’, (OU, 2006), which I did in 2008 and it was a really fascinating course to learn about, they will have encountered a range of innovation terms:

Innovation: “new or improved product, process or system that has reached the point of first commercial introduction – invention becomes innovation”.

The emphasis of this definition is focused on whether the product etc. only becomes an innovation if it has commercial benefit, rather than the wider definitional aspect given by the OED which encompasses social benefits which may or may not attract commercial gain. It is the latter emphasis which I consider is more relevant to modern digital-information based society.

Radical innovation: “product, process or system resulting from a technological breakthrough, or an application of a technology having a far-reaching impact”.

Evolutionary innovation – a term for which incremental innovation is sometimes used.

Incremental innovation “technical modifications to an existing product, process or system”.

Sustaining innovation “new or improved product that meets the needs of current customers and serves to sustain leading firms”.

Disruptive innovation “product or technology that challenges existing companies to ignore or embrace change”.

Process innovation “improvement in the organisation and/or method of manufacture that often leads to reduced costs or benefits to customers”.



Castells, M (2002), ‘The Internet Galaxy. Reflections on the Internet, Business and Society’, Oxford University Press, pp100-104

Gray, C. (2015), accessed 19 November 2015

Gray, C. (2105), ‘Innovation and open education’,, accessed 21 November 2015

OED [online] Oxford English Dictionary, accessed 21 November 2015

OU (2006) ‘Block 1: Invention and innovation: an introduction’, The Open University, as part of the course T307 ‘Innovation: designing for a sustainable future’, pp33-37

SFA, (2015) ‘Apprenticeship standard: sports turf operative’, 21 August 2015, Skills Funding Agency,, accessed 7th November 2015

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