Effectively communicating about Innovation


Understanding and communicating what innovation (and its related focus areas) mean for your organisation, are the very first steps towards making innovation work in your organisation.

Innovation and its importance for continued business survival is not a disputed issue in the business world. Yet, when we engage with organisations, big and small, across industry it is often very concerning to see that many has not taken the time to create common, fertile ground for innovation to flourish. It is like buying plants at the nursery (think of the vegetable garden that will sustain you through a coming drought), then getting home and leaving them outside on the porch to wilt and die.

The innovation space can become a minefield of jargon, misunderstandings and chaos, creating barriers to success. Effective innovation cannot be expected if a common understanding (and a common language) including the rationale about what it means for the organisation does not exist. Starting with the basics and positioning innovation in the organisation needs to be addressed early on, or the organisation’s innovation investments down the line will be a colossal waste of time and money.

Defining innovation, and understanding the importance and relevance of it to your organisation, and  industry, is a fundamental first step for any organisation, and that is why the recent publication of the ISO 56000/SANS 56000 – Innovation Management – Fundamentals and Vocabulary standard, in February this year, constitutes such an important step forward. It does not only go a long way in demystifying innovation concepts and related terms, it creates a global, common understanding on a topic that is guilty of sometimes being  quite fluffy and vague.

What is it?

ISO 56000 or locally adopted as SANS 56000, Innovation management – Fundamentals and Vocabulary, is the most recent of the eight-part series of standards and other guidance documents designed to help organisations understand and use the correct terminology for innovation management. It provides the vocabulary, fundamental concepts and principles of innovation management, and is useful for organisations wanting to make their innovation management activities visible and credible.

ISO 56000/SANS 56000 provides the vocabulary, fundamental concepts and principles of innovation management and its systematic implementation. It specifies the terms and definitions applicable to all innovation management and innovation management system standards developed by ISO/TC 279, the Technical committee of the International Organization for Standardization whose purpose it is to develop, maintain and promote standards in the field of innovation management.[1]

Who is it applicable to?

This standard is applicable to:

  1. organisations implementing an innovation management system or performing innovation management assessments;
  2. organisations that need to improve their ability to effectively manage innovation activities;
  3. users, customers and other relevant interested parties (e.g. suppliers, partners, funding organisations, investors, universities and public authorities) seeking confidence in the innovation capabilities of an organisation;
  4. organisations and interested parties seeking to improve communication through a common understanding of the vocabulary used in innovation management;
  5. providers of training in, assessment of, or consultancy for, innovation management and innovation management systems;
  6. developers of innovation management and related standards.

This standard is ultimately designed to help organisations use the correct terminology for innovation management and communicate consistently about their processes, achievements and learning paths.

The experts that created ISO 56000 worked closely with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to establish a common understanding of the concept of innovation. The agreed definitions are now used in both ISO standards and in the OECD-EU’s Oslo Manual, which is the international reference guide for collecting and using data on innovation.

The World Bank, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) were also consulted on technical points of terminology at several stages of the standard’s development.[2]


What does it include?

The ISO 56000/SANS 5600: Innovation Management: Fundamentals and Vocabulary standard  positions innovation as about creating something new that adds value; this can be a product, a service, a business model or a method. In this sense innovation is seen as an outcome.

It also states that the word “innovation” sometimes refers to activities or processes resulting in, or aiming for, innovation. When “innovation” is used in this sense, it recommends that it should always be used with some form of qualifier, e.g. “innovation activities”.

Other aspects addressed are:

  • The definition of general terms related to innovation, (such as defining incremental vs radical and disruptive innovation), as well as terms related to the organisation, to objectives, knowledge, IP, performance and assessment.
  • It also discusses fundamental innovation concepts and innovation management principles, while Annexure A of the standard deals with concept relationships and their graphical representations. Annexure B unpacks the relations to vocabulary of other organisations, in particular the Oslo Manual and the definitions of intellectual property, bridging with TRIPS/WIPO convention.

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) are the custodians of the ISO 56000 series of Innovation Management Standards in South Africa.

Contact Innocentrix here if you need more information or if you are interested in on-line innovation management training in line with the adopted ISO 56000 standards, to become part of the community that regularly discusses this topic or to attend a future (virtual) workshop.

Remember to consult the Innocentrix website for regular updates on the latest information with regards to the ISO 56000/SANS 56000 series of Innovation Management standards and progress in this regard. For more information, or assistance with regards to the ISO 56000 series of innovation management standards, please contact us here.

[1] In reference to ISO documentation – https://www.iso.org/committee/4587737.html

[2] From the ISO website – https://www.iso.org/news/ref2481.html. Click for more information.