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Innovation in business has never been more important. Competition is rife, and one of the only truly effective ways to differentiate a business is its level of innovation. Of course, great customer service and customer success are necessary, but truly groundbreaking innovation can e ground breaking for a company and its customers.
Innovation has the ability to change the quality of life of everyone it touches. It’s effects on our society today is immeasurable.
At its most basic level, innovation is coming up with a new way to do things. When it comes to business innovation, those new ways of doing things are introduced with the goal of earning the business more money.
Beyond that basic definition, business innovation is a general concept that can apply to many different products, services, efforts, and policies. It can include new products that will better serve customers or a new program that will help employees better communicate about projects they’re working on.
Any time you’re trying to find new ways to improve a business, you’re dabbling in business innovation.
In the business world, innovation is often used as a synonym for research and development (R&D). However, R&D is a fairly limited term that usually refers to the development of new products. Business innovation is a broader term that describes any type of innovation that occurs in a business context.
How Does Business Innovation Work?
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) outlines four ways that business innovation can manifest: product innovation, process innovation, marketing innovation, and organizational innovation.
Product innovation refers to new or significantly improved products. The innovation could include making the same product with better components or a new product that’s more user-friendly.
Process innovation refers to new ways a business can deliver its product or service. This could include changes in techniques, equipment, or software.
Marketing innovation has to do with the way the product or service appears to customers. It includes new packaging or ad campaigns, but it also includes any price changes.
Organizational innovation refers to big picture changes that a business can undertake to improve performance. This could be an internal change to business practices or an external change to business relations with other entities.
Benefits of Business Innovation
In 2019, Northeastern University boiled down the benefits of business innovation to three key concepts:
Better growth: Without flexibility, you may be stifling the growth of your business. Businesses with sufficient capital may be able to buy up competitors and grow that way, but for many businesses, their growth will be limited to how much they can innovate and find new ways to attract customers and grow their market share.
More relevance: The digital age has ushered in an era of unprecedented growth and change. Some 90% of the world’s total data was created in recent years, and hundreds of more websites spring up every minute. Those who can’t keep up with the changes will likely fall to the wayside in this ever-evolving environment.
Helps to differentiate your business: Innovation means doing something differently than has been done before. Therefore, the more your business innovates, the more unique it becomes. Standing out from the pack helps ensure that your business can survive the new businesses flooding the market.
Tracking National Innovation
While business innovation takes place on an organizational level, several groups track total innovation across countries to compare national innovation.
One of these trackers is the Global Innovation Index, which is co-published by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Metrics include business qualities such as R&D and capital investment, but they also include broader social measures of innovation like political environment and knowledge diffusion.
Here are the top 10 innovating countries, as measured by the Global Innovation Index in 2019:
- The U.S.
- United Kingdom
Of course, other organizations have different metrics for measuring national innovation. That’s why it’s helpful to compare the lists generated by a variety of organizations.
Here are the top 10 innovating countries, as determined in early 2020 by the Bloomberg Innovation Index:
- South Korea
- The U.S.
- Business innovation is the process of creating new or improved ways of doing business.
- Business innovation can take many different forms, from a new marketing tactic to an altered workflow, to a brand new product.
- The OECD defines four types of business innovation: product innovation, process innovation, marketing innovation, and organizational innovation.
- Groups commonly track national innovation as a way of measuring a country’s overall economy, growth, and society.
What is your definition of “innovation”: Turning an idea into a solution that adds value from a customer’s perspective
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it?: They talk about it being a company value without actually putting the required level of support behind it to make it happen. Coming up with ideas is relatively easy, fast and cheap, but then those ideas need to be executed. This is where companies often fail, by not providing the required level of time and budget to take a rough idea, refine it, experiment on it and finally turn it into a real solution. Additionally, companies usually think of it just from an internal viewpoint, such as whether they think the offering is being improved when it is updated. In reality, if the customer doesn’t perceive the changes as having value, then they won’t be compelled to purchase it. So it is all about the customer’s perceived value.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it?: Flip it on its head, and look at every new thing you are trying for various customers’ perspectives.
Nick is the chief editor of Idea to Value and also the CEO & Founder of Improvides Innovation Consulting. He was voted one of the world’s top innovation bloggers for 2014 and is a leader in thought leadership on the science of improving creativity. Follow his two twitter accounts here:
What is your definition of “innovation”: The application of ideas that are novel and useful. Creativity, the ability to generate novel and useful ideas, is the seed of innovation but unless it’s applied and scaled it’s still just an idea.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation?: The think about products or technology. Innovation is bigger than a product or a technological platform. And in truth, it’s the innovations to organizations and management that precede product or technology innovation anyway. Great leaders don’t innovate the product; they innovate the factory.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation?: Change the conversation? For starters, let’s have the conversation. Conversation meaning a two-way dialogue. Telling employees that “we need more great ideas” almost never works…yet it’s almost always what is done. Instead, let’s open up a dialogue with everyone in the organization about how we can get better at finding, testing, and implementing the great ideas that people are already having.
David Burkus is a best-selling author, award-winning podcaster, and associate professor of management at Oral Roberts University. His new book “Under New Management” is out now. Twitter: @davidburkus
What is your definition of “innovation”? Very simply put, innovation is about staying relevant. We are in a time of unprecedented change. As a result, what may have helped an organization be successful in the past could potentially be the cause of their failure in the future. Companies need to adapt and evolve to meet the ever changing needs of their constituents.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? The biggest mistake companies make is asking others for ideas. When asking for ideas, we invite a lot of noise and unnecessary work. Every person inside and outside of your organization has an opinion, suggestion, or idea about how to improve things. The reality is that most of these ideas won’t be effective in producing positive results. Organizations that spent too much time on idea collection, implode from the weight of all of the ideas.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? For the most effective results, focus on the question, not the solution/idea. I have done a number of studies that show that when you ask people to think outside the box, you reduce the quality of your solutions. By asking more abstract questions, you increase the noise, lower the value, and reduce the relevancy of solutions. The issue isn’t that you need to expand the box. Quite often you are simply looking in the wrong box!
Framing the challenges correctly is a critical key to innovation. For example, bicycle safety advocates have been pushing for mandatory helmet laws. But the real goal is to improve safety. And numerous studies show that safety is greatly improved when there are a large number of cyclists on the road. Ironically, helmet laws have been shown to reduce the number of riders. Solving the problem of getting helmet law compliance is not the same as increasing riders.
Stephen Shapiro is an Innovation Instigator, Hall of Fame Speaker and Author. His books include Best Practices Are Stupid and Personality Poker. Twitter: @stephenshapiro
What is your definition of “innovation”? I define the innovation process as a great idea, executed brilliantly, and communicated in a way that is both intuitive and fully celebrates the magic of the initial concept. We need all of these parts to succeed. Innovative ideas can be big or small, but breakthrough or disruptive innovation is something that either creates a new category, or changes an existing one dramatically, and obsoletes the existing market leader. We can obsolete ourselves or someone else, and it can be ‘sexy’, or address a basic human need – both the iPad and disposable diapers qualify for me. But it needs to either create a new market, or radically change an existing one.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? We need to stop calling everything breakthrough or disruptive, especially in internal company discussions. It is more than OK to have a balanced pipeline of big and small ideas, and we need to get comfortable with that again. If we demand nothing but disruption or breakthrough, (delivered tomorrow and on small budgets) then that is all people want to work on, and to accommodate this, everything gets labeled in those terms. But language matters, and once we start calling good but smaller ideas breakthrough, we lower the bar. This is a recipe for mediocrity, and is one of the reasons why so many companies struggle with too many small initiatives and not enough big ones.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Make a long-term investment in innovation culture. Strategy is important, but it is culture that drives most of the smaller, often largely unconscious decisions that permeate an innovation organization. Big ideas take time, productive failure, communication, and collaboration. These are enabled by a culture that protects, and to some degree nurtures big ideas, and innovative, fearless people. I’m not sure if this qualifies as simple, but I think it is essential, and often overlooked.
Pete Foley is a Consultant, Innovator, Artist, Scientist, Photographer, Musician, Accountant and Blogger, with 25 years experience of Innovation and Behavioral Science in the Fortune 50. Twitter: @foley_pete
Gijs van Wulfen
What is your definition of “innovation”? An innovation is a feasible relevant offering such as a product, service, process or experience with a viable business model that is perceived as new and is adopted by customers.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? Companies lack focus in their discussions on innovation. Often there’s a senior manager experiencing an urgent need for something new, fueled by a business challenge. A new competitor may have entered the market; revenues may have decreased dramatically or a big contract has been lost. One essential point is often missed at the start: innovation ideas for what? That’s the question! When you focus your innovation efforts, you’re much more productive. You should start innovation choosing a clear focus.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? Don’t accept the status quo. Innovation means coming up with something really new: a big idea. When you fully accept the status quo at work or in your personal life nothing will change. There’s a wonderful quote by George Bernard Shaw: The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. Innovation often starts with something that annoys you personally and is relevant for you. Something you personally really want to change, because you need to. It’s the WHY for innovation.
Gijs van Wulfen is a Linkedin influencer and the author of the FORTH Innovation Methodology. Twitter: @gijsvanwulfen
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What is your definition of “innovation”? the introduction of new products and services that add value to the organisation.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? Companies often confuse invention and innovation; they’re different things.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Companies should really listen more to their consumers and customers.
Kevin McFarthing was voted #1 blogger on innovation in 2015 by Innovation Excellence. He is an expert in Innovation Management, Open Innovation and R&D. Twitter: @InnovationFixer
What is your definition of “innovation”? Not an easy answer: Innovation needs to be defined and agreed upon in each organization, making sure it is strategically and everybody is aligned. Without it, misalignment results in less than optimal focus and results. As long as it includes “new” and it addresses customer needs and wants, any variation goes.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? Innovation is not just Idea generation. It should encompass all Ten Imperatives to Create and Sustain Innovation, from Inspiration to Results; a structured repeatable process needing continued reinforcement and continuous improvement.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? Since it is “Innovative or Perish”, the ideal thing an organization can do is set a clear and simple goal, like “At least one new product per year” that can be adopted and understood at all levels. However, make absolutely sure objectives and rewards are aligned.
Robert Brands is known at the Innovation Coach®, is a serial entrepreneur and innovation practitioner, workshop facilitator, author and speaker. Twitter: @innovationrules
What is your definition of “innovation”? the fundamental way the company brings constant value to their customers business or life and consequently their shareholders and stakeholders.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? They confuse it with invention, they use it to define anything new, they forget it has to contribute new value and be valued by others as better than what they have known.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Placing innovation into the core of the organization’s thinking changes the conversations, it alters the time horizons, it shifts the whole dynamics of where to go to grow and sustain the organization for the future.
Paul Hobcraft has been advising numerous organisations on innovation for over 15 years and is consistently considered one of the world’s top innovation bloggers. Twitter: @Paul4innovating
What is your definition of “innovation”? work that delivers new goodness to new customers in new markets, and does it in a way that radically improves the profitability equation.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? Companies do creativity when they should do innovation. There can be no innovation without commercialization.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? Move from idea generation to product commercialization.
Mike Shipulski is an innovation thought leader, focusing on defining best practices and tools for Product and Technology Development and embed them into company culture. Twitter: @MikeShipulski
What is your definition of “innovation”? Creativity is thinking of something new. Innovation is the implementation of something new.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? Many companies make grand statements about their commitment to innovation but do not invest in the time, people or money to prototype innovative ideas.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Commit the resources to a good staff ideas scheme with the target of implementing at least 5 ideas per employee per year.
Paul Sloane is a Speaker, Facilitator and Author, specialising in entertaining talks & workshops on creativity, lateral thinking & innovation. Twitter: @PaulSloane
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What is your definition of “innovation”? the implementation of creative ideas in order to generate value, usually through increased revenues, reduced costs or both.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? They confuse creativity, especially idea collecting, with innovation.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? Put more women in top management. Research studies have shown it improves the success rate of innovation, and also the bottom line.
Jeffrey Baumgartner is an author, keynote speaker and workshop facilitator specialising in creativity and innovation, and writer of the long-running industry newsletter Report 103. Twitter: @creativeJeffrey
What is your definition of “innovation”? I try not to define “innovation” as we should tone down our use of the word and term.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? They talk too much about innovation. They should get back to basics.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Stop talking about innovation. Focus on corporate transformation – in most cases, this should be driven by digitalization and disruption issues.
Stefan Lindegaard is the Chief Transformer at Transform – or Die! Author, speaker and advisor focusing on corporate transformation based on digitalization, disruption and innovation. Twitter: @lindegaard
What is your definition of “innovation”? anything that is new, useful, and surprising. That last criteria, surprising, tends to ‘surprise’ people because they usually don’t hear many people talk about it. For me, a great innovation are the simple ones that make you slap your forehead and say, “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?”.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? The biggest mistake companies make is not taking stock in how innovative they already are. I’ve worked with some of the most innovative companies in the world whose employees moan that they’re not innovative enough, or that they desperately want a “culture of innovation.” It’s crazy. So I tell companies they don’t have an innovation problem. They have an employee perception problem. My best guess is that employees get frustrated when they see their company kill a viable project in favor of other priorities. It wears them down.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? A simple thing companies can do to change the conversation about innovation is to train it. Set up formal courses teaching systematic methods of innovation like SIT and TRIZ. Teach people about idea management, idea selection, and pipeline development. In other words, see innovation as a competency like leadership or ethics.
Drew Boyd is Co-author of Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results. Innovation practitioner, professor, blogger, and speaker. Twitter: @DrewBoyd
What is your definition of “innovation”? New, organic value creation by applying creativity, in-depth relationships with consumers and customers, and new thinking.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about innovation? Because innovation is a process, they bucket it as a value engineering process, rather than a value generation process.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about innovation? Live it. Host workshops. Bootcamps. Show executive support for innovation projects.
Michael Graber is Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Southern Growth Studio, and has a particular focus on innovation, to deliver high-impact go-to-market strategies and product launches. Twitter: @SouthernGrowth
What is your definition of “innovation”? something new or different that delivers value to the world, with the key criteria that I’m not innovating if I’m not bettering people’s lives. Put simply, it is the future delivered.
What mistake do companies often make when they talk about it? Mistakes are too many, one is punishing people for trying new stuff. Leaders that want to build an organization that innovates consistently must provide six things to employees: freedom, resources, diverse teams, support, encouragement and challenge. In other words, you can put it like this: Have bold goals, get out of the way and reward people for trying.
What simple thing can a company do to change their conversation / perspective about it? Companies, just like people, get in their own way. So ask, how are we impeding people from doing the things necessary that drive innovation? Then stop doing that and start doing that does.
Jorge Barba is an innovation insurgent and a partner at Blu Maya, an innovation consultancy helping ordinary companies become extraordinary. Twitter: @jorgebarba
Analysis of the innovation definition
As you can see by all of the responses above, every expert has their own views on what innovation is and how companies can improve it. Some of them even rightly point out that it’s become a bit of a buzzword and perhaps we shouldn’t be looking for a singular definition as it will vary based on circumstance.
But after going through all of the responses, it became clear that there are definitely some underlying themes that crop up again and again.
Here is my analysis of the most-cited aspects of innovation according to this selection of thought leaders:
Having an idea
Executing the idea
Addresses a real challenge
Add value to the company
Add value to customer
Different perspective / thinking
Definition not important
Addressing new market
Based on all of these factors combined, if we were to create the ultimate innovation definition, it would be:
The ultimate definition of innovation
Executing an idea which addresses a specific challenge and achieves value for both the company and customer
Western writers and scholars from Karl Marx to Francis Bacon have regularly cited ancient China as the birthplace for the key innovations that kickstarted modern civilization. Of the innovations often referred to as the Four Great Inventions – the compass, gunpowder, paper-making, and printing – only one of them has a person widely credited as its inventor.
A servant of the Chinese imperial court, Cai Lun (sometimes spelled Ts’ai Lun), is credited with the development of paper in 105 A.D. Like many great inventions, Lun’s achievement was based on the improvement of an existing idea. The use of papyrus for writing and illustration was already well established at the time, but it was a slow, often expensive and ultimately unreliable medium.
Cai conceived the idea of forming sheets of paper from soaked tree bark, hemp waste, old rags and fishnets – it was heap, much easier to produce and transport, and more importantly easier to write on. Lun would go on to standardize his formula and process before it was rapidly adopted across China, eventually spreading around the world.
The Wright Brothers
How could two ostensibly small-time tinkerers manage to pull off the sort of humanity-changing breakthrough that you would normally expect could only be achieved by a well-resourced company or government? The simple answer would be that they were able to muster up a seemingly unending supply of perseverance.
Brothers Wilbur and Orvill from Dayton, Ohio, ran a modest bicycle shop. As children they had been inspired by the French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud, and as adults they were infatuated with the seemingly impossible dream of creating a working flying machine.
Many had failed before them, but the two self-taught engineers were undeterred by continual setbacks, heading back to the drawing board time and again to tweak and repair prototypes following each demoralizing crash.
On December 17 1903 the siblings would succeed in achieving the first powered, sustained, and controlled airplane flight. Two years later they would take things further by flying the first fully practical airplane, kickstarting a global economy and helping to make the world a smaller place.
Leonardo Da Vinci
The fame of Leonardo Da Vinci’s iconic paintings, such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, has meant he has been regarded primarily as an artist, but he was also an immensely talented engineer and scientist – and a visionary inventor way ahead of his time.
One of the great creative minds of the Italian Renaissance, Da Vinci was born in the town of Vinci on April 15, 1452. Despite living centuries before his trailblazing ideas were fully realized, his forward-thinking sketches provided the foundation for some of the most important innovations of modern times, with his notebooks suggesting that he ‘invented’ the bicycle, airplane, helicopter, machine gun and parachute.
From his deep understanding of the workings of the human body, as evidenced by his art, to his awareness of physics, mathematics and astronomy, the key to the polymath’s genius ideas was the way in which he pulled together his varied talents and knowledge to form his concepts.
While Galileo’s inventions and scientific breakthroughs were many and varied, arguably his greatest gift to the world was that he was unafraid to question conventional wisdom and the accepted scientific norms of the time in order to further his remarkable ideas.
Born in Pisa, Italy on February 15, 1564 to a famous musician father, Galileo invented numerous mechanical devices, including a ground-breaking horse-drawn pump and the hydrostatic balance measuring device. His most famous would be a powerful telescope, produced in 1609. Modeled after telescopes produced in other parts of Europe that could magnify objects three times, Galileo’s could magnify objects by a factor of 20, allowing him to look at the moon, discover the four satellites of Jupiter, observe a supernova and verify the phases of Venus.
These discoveries helped him prove the Copernican system, which states that the Earth and other planets revolve around the sun. Prior to this theory, it was accepted that the universe was geocentric, meaning the sun revolved around the earth.
Galileo’s debunking of traditional beliefs attracted the attention of the all-powerful Catholic Church, which considered his ideas as heresy. At first they sentenced him to life in prison, but later allowed him to live at his home in Tuscany under house arrest until his death in 1642. The Church would go on to change its views on Galileo, while his advancement of astronomy and physics means he is now commonly referred to as ‘the father of modern science’.
Born into aristocracy, Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the Romantic poet Lord Byron. She would head down a decidedly different path than her famous father, breaking the conventions expected of noblewomen in the 19th century by studying science. Her unconventional education, coupled with her ability to ‘think outside of the box’ long before the term was coined, helped to lay the groundwork for the computing revolution that began a century later.
Aged 17 she met the inventor Charles Babbage, beginning a lifelong friendship. Babbage was working on a machine known as the ‘analytical engine’, now recognized as a very early version of the computer.
Beguiled by the machine, Lovelace began contributing to the project. Dubbed ‘the enchantress of numbers’ by Babbage, she wrote reams of documentation about the pioneering invention, with her observations including the idea that such a machine could manipulate symbols in accordance with rules, and that numbers could represent entities other than quantity – a breakthrough that marked the fundamental transition from calculation to computation.
Although she died young, Lovelace left an invaluable legacy, with her observations informing Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers.
Often regarded as the greatest inventor in history, Thomas Edison has over 1,000 patents in his name. Born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio, his prolificacy was in no small part down to the fact that he backed up his innovative thinking with solid business acumen, with his breakthroughs often the result of a focus on developing a marketable product which solved a common problem.
At the heart of Edison’s work was his Menlo Park research labs in New Jersey – the first business or institution established for the sole purpose of inventing. Here, Edison’s team would research and develop new scientific concepts, before applying them to practical functions in devices which could be manufactured and built on a large scale.
Edison’s inventions included the telegraph, the universal stock ticker, the phonograph, the first commercially practical incandescent electric light bulb, alkaline storage batteries and the Kinetograph (a camera for motion pictures). His incredible success at bringing these inventions to market such advancements helped to drive America’s industrial progress in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Contrary to most innovators of her time, when Marie Curie made her greatest discovery, she did not patent it in the hope of cashing in – instead she made all her research relating to the discovery of radium available to the scientific community, encouraging others to further develop her findings.
Born in Poland in 1867, Curie’s achievements were all the more incredible given that when she was growing up, girls were forbidden from attending college, forcing her to receive her education at the ‘Flying University’, a clandestine institution operated in secret from the Russian imperial authorities. After moving to Paris to further her studies at the Sorbonne, which accepted girls, she would go on to become one of the most ground-breaking scientists of all time.
Best known for her work on radioactivity and for discovering the element polonium, she would become the first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes – one in physics, which she won jointly with her husband Pierre and Henri Becquerel, and another in chemistry. Curie was also responsible for establishing the theory of radioactivity, but she unwittingly also discovered the fatal effect that radiation could have on your health, dying in 1934 from leukemia caused by radiation exposure.
Hedy Lamarr’s life perhaps stands as a shining example of an innovator defying convention. A glamorous Austrian-American actress during MGM’s ‘Golden Age’, Lamarr certainly doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of what an inventor should look or act like.
But every time you connect to Wi-fi or use Bluetooth on your phone you have the Hollywood actress to thank, at least in part.
In addition to starring in films such as Samson and Delilah and Lady of the Tropics alongside the likes of Clark Gable and Spencer Tracey, Lamarr was also a self-taught inventor – an aspect of her life which she largely kept secret.
At the start of World War 2 she co-invented an early technique for spread spectrum communications. Designed to allow Allied submarines to guide torpedoes more accurately toward their targets, the principles of the technology are incorporated into today’s wireless communications tech.
Like a number of the innovators listed here, Rosalind Franklin battled to get an education, and then battled to gain recognition for her visionary work. Born in London in 1920, she knew her calling was to be a scientist from an early age, but her father objected to women going to college, and refused to pay her tuition.
Her mother and aunt would eventually convince him to change his mind, with Franklin rewarding their faith by graduating with a doctorate in physical chemistry from Cambridge University, in 1951. The young British scientist would go on to play a fundamental role in arguably the most important scientific breakthrough of the 20th century, producing an x-ray photograph and research that helped show the structure of DNA, the molecule that holds the genetic code underpinning all life.
Often feeling undermined by her male colleagues, Franklin regularly clashed with her colleague Maurice Wilkins, who had thought she was his assistant, not his equal. Unbeknown to Franklin, Wilkins would share her research with James Watson and Francis Crick, who would use information from the image to work out a model for the structure of DNA. The discovery was integral to the transformation of modern medicine, and has been described as one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time.
Franklin tragically died of ovarian cancer at the age of just 37. Four years later, Watson, Crick and Wilkins were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery. As the prize is not awarded posthumously, Franklin’s key contribution was not recognized, and campaigns continue to this day for her to receive the acknowledgement her work so richly deserved.
It’s often a measure of a great innovators that they’re quick to recognize that their ideas may have applications beyond their original intended use, and there’s no better example of this than British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee’s inception of what would become the worldwide web.
In 1989, while working at the CERN European Particle Physics Laboratory near Geneva in Switzerland, Berners-Lee created the first hypertext browser, and by October of the following year he had formulated the core components of the global network that we still use to this day: HTML, URL and HTTP.
Although initially devised as a means for scientists around the globe to quickly share their research, Berners-Lee soon realized that his invention had applications far beyond the academic community, and could benefit the entire world. His adaptation and development of his initial idea would forever change the way humans communicated with one another.