FAQ Innovation | Design Thinking | Company | Münsterland
Innovations in the Münsterland
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FAQ on the topic of innovation

Innovation - What is it?

The word innovation is derived from the Latin "innovātiō", which means renewal, change, transformation, novelty.
Five aspects are essential for the definition of innovation:

  • Innovations are implemented ideas.
  • Innovations are only innovations if they revolutionise markets.
  • Innovations solve problems and thus bring added value.
  • Innovations are for customers and thus human-centred.
  • Innovations are one step ahead of the customers.

It is important to develop a common definition of innovation in the company and to publish it visibly for everyone in the company and to review it regularly. Only when everyone is clear about what the word innovation means in the company can managers and employees pull together.

Why are innovations important?

Innovations are important for companies to be able to survive in competition. Studies show that innovations increase the return on investment, turnover, the number of employees and the productivity of companies. Innovative products achieve higher market prices and innovative processes lead to greater efficiency. Without innovation and a willingness to change, companies can miss important developments and be overtaken by competitors.

For example, when Apple presented the first iPhone to the world public in 2007, Nokia was the market leader in mobile phones. Ten years later, Nokia had to sell its mobile phone division to Microsoft. Nokia had not seen the triumph of smartphones with touch screens coming.

How and when do innovations arise?

Innovations are created in companies that have a good capacity for innovation. The innovative capacity of a company can be measured by its willingness to change, its ability to change and its change competence . Willingness to change means, for example, that the company not only talks about changes but also actively implements them. Possibility of change, on the other hand, includes the availability of sufficient time and resources for innovation work. Change competence describes the knowledge available in the company, for example about innovation techniques.

Only if there is a willingness to change, an opportunity to change and a competence to change in the company can innovation come about. If one of the three prerequisites is not present, then the result can be resistance, fear or frustration towards innovation and change in the company.

How do innovations succeed?

Innovations are successful when they solve relevant problems and offer added value. Customer problems are innovation potentials. The key to successful innovation is to engage with the customer. For example, customers should be visited regularly or observed using the product. Companies should allow problems, collect current and possible future problems and work on them. It is clear that solving the problems takes time, but early feedback from the customers is essential in order to avoid missing the need for development.

How are innovations measured?

There are different ways to measure the success of innovations. On the one hand, successful innovations are reflected in high customer satisfaction. On the other hand, a high number of implemented customer ideas, patents, publications and prizes such as the Münsterland Innovation Award indicate high innovative strength. Often, the turnover from new products that are not older than three years and the resulting profit are also used as key figures.

It should be noted that the financial risk of innovation projects is difficult to assess, especially in the early phases. Here, companies should not discontinue projects prematurely. Therefore, non-financial key figures should also be collected to assess innovation projects, such as employee satisfaction.

Where does innovation arise?

Innovation takes place everywhere. On the one hand, there are entrepreneurs who have a good idea - for example Hermann Hölscher and Gottfried Windmöller, who founded the paper goods factory Windmöller & Hölscher in Lengerich together in 1869. At first, the company produced paper bags by hand for packaging goods for merchants and folding capsules for packaging medicines for pharmacists. To replace the laborious manual work, Hermann Hölscher developed a "pointed bag machine" and applied for a patent for it in 1877. Today, Windmöller & Hölscher is a successful internationally active mechanical engineering company with about 2,500 employees worldwide and specialises in the production of machines for the manufacture of flexible packaging.

On the other hand, many innovations are user-driven. Frank Brormann, master hairdresser and owner of 360° Haare GmbH in Oelde, invented a cutting tool that cuts hair at an angle instead of straight. This makes it more elastic, gives it more body and reduces split ends. The cutting tool was therefore not invented by a scissors manufacturer, but by a hairdresser. For his development, Frank Brormann received the Münsterland Innovation Award in the category "Small and Smart" in 2019.

How can innovations be promoted?

The existence of a lively innovation culture promotes innovation in the company. An innovation culture checkup with its criteria can help to reflect on the innovation culture in one's own company and to measure it to some extent.

Here is an excerpt from the criteria of the innovation culture checkup:

  • The company management emphasises the importance of innovation and is noticeably committed to this topic.
  • The research and development department cooperates with universities or universities of applied sciences.
  • Innovation and creativity techniques are part of management training.
  • Diversity (for example, age, field of study) is a criterion in personnel selection.
  • A change proposal enjoys a natural leap of faith.
  • Workplace design promotes knowledge sharing.
  • The topic of innovation is a systematic part of target agreements.
  • Internal media regularly report on innovation and change processes.

What are disruptive innovations?

The term disruption goes back to the American professor Clayton M. Christensen, who published the book "The Innovator's Dilemma" in 1997. Evolutionary technologies improve products for the core clientele, i.e. the products are improved step by step. Disruptive technologies, on the other hand, create new products for markets that have yet to be invented. Companies with disruptive innovation operate from a market niche and serve customers that are not interesting for established companies. Over time, the quality of the new products increases and they are bought by more and more customers. The established companies thus get serious competition.

A good example of a disruptive innovation is Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia on the internet, which started as a non-profit project with voluntary authors in 2001. In contrast, there were the traditional printed encyclopaedias with paid authors, such as Brockhaus, whose 30-volume 21st edition was sold in 2006 at a total price of 2,820 euros and weighed a combined 70 kilograms. In the end, the printed encyclopaedias could no longer compete with the free Wikipedia offering, which could quickly absorb new topics and continuously update existing ones. The Brockhaus Encyclopaedia no longer exists today.

What are business model innovations?

A business model describes the basic principle by which an organisation creates, communicates and captures value. Put simply, a business model describes the way a company makes money. Business model innovations therefore concern a new way in which a company generates revenue with products and/or services. Business model innovations are nothing new. For example, the introduction of photocopier leasing and Xerox's per-copy payment system in 1959 is a business model innovation.

Many business model innovations are favoured or made possible by digitalisation. The online shop schrankwerk.de for customised furniture, for example, makes it possible to configure a wardrobe online. This allows wardrobes to be planned and designed photo-realistically. Dimensions and equipment requirements are transmitted directly to the carpentry workshop and passed on to the production department using a CAD programme. With its online shop, the Dickmänken joinery from Rheine was able to win completely new customers and received the Münsterland Innovation Award in the category "Digital Business Models" in 2017.

What is Design Thinking and how does it work?

Design thinking aims to solve complex problems, develop new ideas and put the customer or user at the centre of all considerations. Design thinking is therefore more an approach to solving complex problems and developing new ideas than an innovation method.

Prerequisites for efficient problem solving with Design Thinking are:

  • multidisciplinary teams (disciplines, age, experience, etc.)
  • working in spaces that promote creativity
  • the joint development of a problem
  • knowledge of the needs and motivation of clients and
  • the design of concepts that are tested, adapted and changed several times.

Design thinking can best be translated as "thinking like an inventor". There are six steps in design thinking that are repeated throughout the process:

  • Understanding: Understanding the problem, choosing an appropriate question with regard to the needs and challenges of the project.
  • Observation: intensive research and field observation of the user, gaining essential insights, delineating the framework conditions
  • Synthesis/Determining point of view: Breaking down the observations made to a single, prototypical user, defining the user's needs.
  • Idea generation: developing and visualising ideas
  • Prototyping: creating simple prototypes to illustrate the ideas, testing on the target group
  • Refinement: learning on the basis of the test on the target group, refinement of the prototype until an optimal, user-centred product has been created (this step can concern all previous steps)

Within these six steps, a wide variety of methods can be applied, such as the use of different creativity techniques to find ideas or Lego bricks to build simple prototypes.


B. van Aerssen, C. Buchholz (eds.) (2018) Das große Handbuch Innovation: 555 Methoden und Instrumente für mehr Kreativität und Innovation im Unternehmen. Munich: Vahlen.

R. Gleich, C. Schimank (eds.) (2015) Innovation controlling: effectively managing and efficiently implementing innovations. Munich: Haufe.

Clayton M. Christensen (2011) The Innovators Dilemma: Why established companies lose the competition for breakthrough innovations. Munich: Vahlen.

A. Osterwalder, Y. Pigneur (2011) Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers and Challengers. Frankfurt: Campus.

Learn more about the topic of innovation

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Sonja Raiber
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Sonja Raiber
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