Innovation hard to define

The pace of innovation has been so hectic in recent years that it is hard to imagine which innovations have had the greatest impact on business and society, reports Knowledge@Wharton.  To celebrate its 30th anniversary, PBS’s Nightly Business Report and Knowledge@Wharton partnered to determine which 30 innovations have changed life most dramatically in the past 30 years. Wharton’s readers from more than 250 markets across the country were polled, and some 1,200 suggestions were made. A panel of eight judges from Wharton reviewed and selected the winners, which were revealed online in February. 

In order of importance, they include: Internet, broadband, WWW (browser and html); PC/laptop computers; Mobile phones; E-mail; DNA testing and sequencing/Human genome mapping; Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI); Microprocessors; Fiber optics; Office software (spreadsheets, word processors); Non-invasive laser/robotic surgery (laparoscopy); Open source software and services (e.g., Linux, Wikipedia); Light emitting diodes; Liquid crystal display (LCD); GPS systems; Online shopping/ecommerce/auctions (e.g., eBay); Media file compression (jpeg, mpeg, mp3); Microfinance; Photovoltaic Solar Energy; Large scale wind turbines; Social networking via the Internet; Graphic user interface (GUI); Digital photography/videography; RFID and applications (e.g., EZ Pass); Genetically modified plants; Bio fuels; Bar codes and scanners; ATMs; Stents; SRAM flash memory; and Anti retroviral treatment for AIDS.

"Innovation is a surprisingly hard word to define," says Kevin Werbach, professor of legal studies and business ethics. "Everyone thinks they know it, but when you ask them to explain exactly what an innovation is, it gets very hard." In order to achieve the best results and narrow down the most authentic list of winners, Werbach and his fellow judges defined innovation as more than simply a new invention. "It's something new that creates new opportunities for growth and development," he says, citing cellular technology, which ranks three on the list. "We've gone from zero to close to three-and-a-half-billion people who have a mobile device and are connected to each other."