Innovation – words and actions

I sat down to write my weekly post with the hope of coming up with something meaningful on innovation.  Nothing came.  I asked the all-powerful oracle named Google for some guidance, and my thinking diverged.  I realized that there are too many definitions for the word innovation, too many contexts, too many facets.  There is too much written about the word and too little written about the actions.  I, too, am guilty of using the word for its multiple meanings and sex appeal.  I put it in the title of this post to get some attention (I’ll let you know if Google Analytics reports more hits).  Heck,  I even use the word in the description of the blog.

When I started writing my dissertation,  Chris Brown, my advisor, handed me a book and said something like, “You should learn how to write, so read this”.  The book  was Language In Thought and Action, by S.I. Hayakawa.  I read it, finished my dissertation, and, most importantly, learned about words.  Since my struggle with innovation was all about the word, I dusted off Hayakawa and asked him to help.  Here is what the senator had to say.

To map meaning to a word it is best to point to the physical world (extensional meaning).  Putting your hand over your mouth and pointing to a chair is a good way to assign meaning to the word chair.  Closing your eyes and talking about a chair (intensional meaning) is not as good.  So, to understand innovation it would be best to point your finger at it.  But how?

Using an operational definition is a good way to point to the physical world.  He quotes physicist P.W. Bridgeman who coined the term.

To find the length of an object, we have to perform certain physical operations.  The concept of length is therefore fixed when the operations by which length is measured is fixed…..  In general, we mean by any concept nothing more than a set of operations; the concept is synonymous with the corresponding set of operations.”

Hayakawa would ask, “Can you put your hand over your mouth and point to innovation?”  Bridgeman would ask, “Can you define the set of operations for innovation? ”   

This week my answer is “Not yet”.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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