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  • This resource provides explanations of the key terms encountered when exploring Innovation.

    Some of these terms are complex to explain clearly and concisely. We’ve provided these explanations to help establish common understanding for students and teachers alike. You’ll also find video clips and activities amongst our Innovation resources that can be used to further illustrate the use and meaning of these key terms.


    An idea is a thought or collection of thoughts generated in the mind. An idea may form spontaneously or be generated with intent (for example, through brainstorming sessions). An idea may be generated by an individual or by a group of individuals.


    An invention can be described as the creation of something new to the world.

    Many inventions are producer-driven – they are the result of a person following their curiosity, responding to their needs or working in their area of expertise. Many inventions, particularly those from scientific institutes, universities or corporate labs, are patented. To be patented, the invention must meet certain criteria. It must be new or novel, inventive (not obvious to those working in the field) and capable of being made and used.


    Inventors are people who create something new to the world. Inventors are often driven by their own curiosity, their own needs or their own research interests to find something new. Not all inventions have an immediate application. Not all inventions are economically viable. Not all inventions meet a specific need.


    The word ‘innovation’ comes from the Latin word ‘innovatus’ meaning ‘to renew’.

    An innovation can be described as a result of the creative process of turning an idea into an outcome that creates value for people. An innovation does not have to be new (in the way an invention does) but it does need to be new in its context. The value an innovation brings can be economic, health or social, cultural or civic wellbeing.

    Innovation tends to be customer-focused, providing a new product or a new way of doing things that adds value to our lives. Innovations can occur in any field or sector and can be part of a strategic approach of a business, team or government. The innovation may be prompted by an idea or an insight or be a response to an issue, a challenge or a problem. An innovation can be radical, making a major change in an established product, service or market (for example, the original iPad) or incremental, made by small continuous improvements (for example, iPad 2).


    Innovators are people who are able to see how a new idea or an existing idea or invention could be exploited into an outcome that creates value for people. They are the ones who are able to see a situation differently or respond to a challenge in a new way. Innovators draw on their own expertise as well as that of others. Their innovations create change and bring value to society.

    Innovation ecosystem

    The innovation ecosystem is the complex network of people, organisations, institutions, government policy and regulations that support and promote innovation. It includes the interactions between people in order to take an idea and turn it into a marketable process, product or service.

    Innovation process

    The innovation process is the term used to describe the steps involved in the process of generating, exploiting and applying new ideas. The process is not linear, nor is there just one process. The steps generally include:

    • coming up with the idea
    • choosing and developing the idea
    • researching, developing and testing
    • marketing the product or service based on the idea
    • seeing the product or service being used or adopted by others.


    Entrepreneurs are generally people who take ideas (inventions or innovations) to market. They are the ones who start businesses to exploit the value of the invention or innovation.

    Domain knowledge

    Domain knowledge is the sum of what has been perceived, discovered or learned in a particular field of study or endeavour. Domain knowledge can be deep or broad. Individuals who have developed domain knowledge (through study, work or life experience) in a particular field are specialists in that area. Scientists often develop very detailed and deep domain knowledge in their discipline of interest.

    Design thinking

    A set of skills, competencies or dispositions relating to the highly iterative collaborative process designers employ when conceiving, planning and producing an object or system.


    The action of working with someone to produce something. Collaboration has mutual benefits for both parties. Collaboration can occur between individuals working in a team. It can also describe the way in which individuals or organisations work together on a project. In this case, the collaboration may only be a small part of the individuals’ or organisations’ overall goals and responsibilities.


    The co-operative or co-ordinated effort on the part of a group of individuals working together as a team to achieve a common goal, cause or purpose. Teams are usually structured in a defined way with a leader and group members, rules and roles, specific outcomes and timeframes.

      Published 3 October 2016 Referencing Hub articles
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