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Posted by Tina Catling 9 January 2018 Innovation Consultancy

Starting out on your innovation journey can be daunting. One of the first steps to finding your feet in the industry is taking the time to understand some of the key concepts and terminologies that are so often used in daily discussions of innovation. While some can feel like buzzwords, getting to know your RACI from your R&D can make building a strategy a lot more accessible and achievable.


Innovation is rarely a solo mission, and many of the best innovations come about as a result of cooperation within organisations by individuals from across a wide range of teams. Yet when speaking of collaborative innovation, this notion can in fact be taken one step further and represents a current trend in the innovation industry known as co-creation.

Data Station defines collaboration as ‘people or organizations working together to realize and achieve shared goals, by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.’ More recently, co-creation has come to mean both involving customers in the creativity process and working with industries markedly different from your own in order to develop new ways of thinking and innovative approaches to problem solving.


Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to innovation; disruptive and incremental. Disruptive innovation is perhaps the most commonly thought of type of innovation, as it is more visibly ground-breaking and headline-grabbing than incremental innovation. The Financial Times has a useful definition here.

Back in November think consultant Mark wrote about three things that must be remembered about disruptive innovation. This list included the fact that what counts as disruptive must be properly understood to avoid an overuse and conflation of the term and that innovators must learn not to fear disruption if they are to succeed. By seeing disruption as an opportunity, organisations can inspire growth and a strong innovation strategy.


Akin to the biology term defining the interaction between organisms and their physical environment, an innovation ecosystem describes the complex network of interactions that take place throughout the innovation process.

Science Learning Hub defines the innovation ecosystem as a ‘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.’

Forbes contributor Jacob Morgan has suggested a number of ways organisations can future-proof their innovation ecosystems here.


As mentioned above, incremental innovation is in many ways the opposite of disruptive innovation, though this by no means suggests that it is less-relevant or has a lesser capacity for change than disruptive innovation.

Business Dictionary defines incremental innovation as ‘a series of small improvements to an existing product or product line that usually helps maintain or improve its competitive position over time.’ This can also be extended to include processes within an organisation, as incremental innovations can lead to increased efficiency and a smarter use of your team’s capabilities.


An acronym for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed, RACI is a Responsibility Assignment Matrix used by teams to better manage innovation projects. The scale and aims of the project can vary a great deal, but by assigning roles to each member of the team from the outset, organisations can ensure that their project will run smoothly and be delivered according to the brief. 

This blog post from think consultant Isobel breaks down the four different positions into simple definitions that are easy to apply to your own context.


Perhaps a term more often associated with science or university departments, R&D still holds a place at the innovation table. Beyond the basic definition of R&D as Research and Development, Investopedia argues the term ‘refers to the investigative activities a business conducts to improve existing products and procedures or to lead to the development of new products and procedures.’

Suggesting that R&D is rarely undertaken with the aim of making immediate profit, Investopedia believes that ‘instead, it is focused on long-term profitability for a company.’ Because ‘companies that employ entire departments devoted to R&D commit substantial capital to the effort, […] they must estimate the risk-adjusted return on their R&D expenditures.’ While entire R&D departments may be the preserve of giants like Unilever and P&G, the ethos of playing the long game and thinking for the future is one that all innovators large and small can undertake.

If you need some guidance getting started with innovation, follow the links below to find out how think can help.

As global innovation specialists we aim to help and encourage people and organizations to become more nimble, boosting their ability to generate ideas. We bring pace and focus to your innovation initiatives using our unique innovation techniques, which are constantly being developed by our professional licensees. If you’re interested in becoming a licensee for the think team, contact us here.

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