What is Innovation?

Last week, I had the chance to attend an event hosted by MAP for Nonprofits and Idealware around the release of their new report, Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services. What really stuck me is how they chose to define innovation.

Innovation is one of those buzzwords that we see everywhere in the discussions of how nonprofits, foundations and, well, everyone, need to evolve in a changing world. It can feel cliched, it can feel daunting — sometimes both at once. That’s why I appreciated what they had to say about what innovation is and isn’t.

Innovation is not:

  • Jet packs and flying cars.
  • So cutting-edge and futuristic that you’ll never be able to afford it.
  • Something out of reach.

Innovation is:

  • Accessible to all.
  • Using what you already have to address a core need.
  • Something you might not even realize you’re already doing.

I personally identify as being something of a hacker. Not in the sense of breaking into computers to steal information (heaven forbid!), but in taking the tech tools available to me and poking, prodding, twisting, turning and recoding them until they let me accomplish my goals for a fraction of what it would cost to start from scratch and build something custom. I hadn’t associated that mindset with the word innovation before, but you better believe I will now.

The event was held at Lifetrack Resources, where we heard the story of Lifetrack using closed-captioned webinars to reach a broad new base of people in need of their programs but unable to travel to their events. That and other examples are available  in the full report, available on MAP for Nonprofits’ website. Also be sure to read the recent posts about the report on the Stanford Social Innovation Review and on Beth Kanter’s blog.

-Chris Oien, MCF web communications associate

Image cc opensourceway

One Response to What is Innovation?

  1. Thanks for the post, Chris! What our report revealed about innovation is backed up by Jonah Lehrer’s book on innovation entitled Imagine.

    Most often innovation is the result of iteration and recombination of existing ideas (my favorite tongue in cheek example being the taco bell Doritos shell!) This is something that a lot of folks don’t realize, and so they often don’t identify themselves as innovators when they really do deserve the title (like you!)

    This report is so exciting because the results were so “common place”. Innovation is happening. It is within reach. You may already be doing it! Let’s celebrate these ideas, share them with one another, and keep getting even better at making the world a better place.

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