Understanding the Value of Innovation

The assassination of Franz Ferdinand the band

Innovation is defined as the introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device. That definition is overly broad and abstract for our purposes so let’s approach this from a different angle. Innovation is the application of creativity and analytics to a problem or opportunity with the expectation of positive and increased value. There—that’s better.

Actually, that’s not better at all. That is how I would explain innovation to someone if asked but that doesn’t get us anywhere new. There’s nothing innovative at all about that explanation. Damn.

Ok, let me start over.

We all get innovation. Whether we can articulate it or not, we have all participated, actively or passively, in innovation. We’re human, after all, and this world was built on innovation. But I want to know not only why innovation matters but also how I can create innovation.

I believe that all events are connected across time. The influence of decisions made today will ripple infinitely and shape, to at least some degree, the events of the future. I’m not talking about the Butterfly Effect (horrible movie, by the way) or alternate histories. While I find chaos theory and quantum physics fascinating, I prefer to observe from a safe distance. No, I’m talking about being able to run a piece of thread from events that took place hundreds of years ago to something that happened yesterday.

“Objection, your Honor. What does this have to do with innovation?” Overt skepticism paints the face of an overmatched opposing counsel.

“Overruled. I want to see where he goes with this. But your point better be made abundantly clear to me very soon, Mr. Keefe,” the judge scolds with a raised brow and searing focus.

“I assure you there is a point, your Honor, and this is critical to my argument.”

“Proceed,” the judge says with an annoyed eye roll and sarcastic gesticulation.

“Thank you, your Honor.”

Here’s a quick example: assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, World War I, modernization of Turkey, development of oil-producing infrastructure, Japan’s strained access to crude, Pearl Harbor, Cold War, proxy conflicts, surplus of M1 Abrams tanks, Desert Storm, assassination of Franz Ferdinand the band.

“Wait, that last part didn’t happen yet?” Patrick asks rhetorically with a furtive glance.

Innovation works the same way. We’ll call it Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Innovation. Much like compound interest…



As I was saying, much like compound interest, what we innovate today will pay dividends for our ability to innovate tomorrow. The value of innovation then, as elucidated by my ramblings, is not just increased innovation but an increased ability to innovate. And that is far more valuable to us than individual instances of innovation.

“Your honor, all this thinking is making me really hungry,” whines opposing counsel.

“2 hour break for lunch. Upon resumption of the proceedings, Mr. Keefe can continue the pontifications on what I can only assume will become his treatise on innovation,” says the judge exhaustedly and with a bang of his gavel.

While perhaps a bit hyperbolic, the judge is correct—this is the beginning of a treatise on innovation; the beginning of a journey to understand innovation with the hopes of creating it. My benefactors have been kind enough to support this endeavor and, if you’re willing to entertain me, you can expect a series of articles on some of the many facets of innovation. The journey we take together should contribute to our ability to identify, understand and create innovation for ourselves. And that sounds like a very worthy endeavor to me.

The bailiff peeks his head into the courtroom from the judge’s chambers. “You realize the courtroom is empty, right?”

“I’ve never cared about the lack of an audience.”

This article was authored on May 29, 2013 and originally published on the HLK blog.