Innovation is one of those words that gets used more often than it gets defined. And these days, it gets used a whole lot. In fact, it’s probably overused. But despite the popularity of the term (or maybe because of it) we run into a lot of confusion about what the word innovate even means.

Let’s clear that up today, shall we?

Team Toolkit uses a pretty simple definition of innovation. It’s just three words: “NOVELTY WITH IMPACT.” We like this definition for several reasons.

First, it’s simple, clear, and short enough to be memorable. That’s important, because a definition people can’t understand or remember isn’t very helpful, is it?

Second, “novelty with impact” is broad enough to be applicable in a wide range of situations. For example, we might talk about novel technologies or novel processes, new organizational structures or new methods of communication. We know novelty comes in a lot of different flavors, so our definition encompasses them rather than trying to list them (e.g. “Innovation is any new process, technology, solution, product, etc…”).

Incidentally, we tend to take a broad, inclusive understanding of the word novelty. The thing doesn’t have to be new to the whole world to count as novel. If it’s new to us, or new to our domain, that counts.

Similarly, the word impact might refer to saving time or saving money, increasing effectiveness or improving efficiency. It might refer to solving a problem, making an improvement, changing the marketplace or revolutionizing the battlespace. Rather than trying to pack our definition with a comprehensive list of all that stuff, we just refer to all forms of positive difference making as “impact.”

Third, “novelty with impact” helps distinguish innovative things from non-innovative alternatives. How can we tell the difference between an innovative product and a standard offering? The innovative product is novel. And what’s the difference between an innovative product and something that is merely creative? The innovative product has an impact.

But the best thing about this definition is that it points to two very important questions: What novelty are you trying to introduce? What impact are you trying to have?

Answering those two questions is a great way to get clarity about the sort of innovation we’re trying to introduce to the world.

For example, this blog post is offering a new definition of innovation (Novelty!), to help people better understand what innovation is and to build their innovation strategies (Impact!).

Which brings us to you. What sort of novelty are you trying to introduce in your arena? What sort of impact are you trying to have? Answer those questions and you’re well on your way to doing it.