‘Innovation’ and ‘Technology’ are high-profile buzz words. They’ve been getting more attention during the pandemic’s lockdowns due to major shifts to digital platforms and ways of working.  Sometimes, it seems like unless ‘innovation’ is about ‘technology’ it isn’t valid. But how does the concept of innovation sit with the members of the Small Scale Food Processor Association?

Over the last several months, the SSFPA has been collecting Stories of Innovation from members and we asked some of them to define ‘innovation’. Many describe how their products were developed through a process of trial and error, that itself becomes part of innovation. Although there are ways in which members characterized their own innovations that were specific to their process, a number of these processes had much in common.

Innovation can often start with an insight. Rather than a ‘light bulb moment’, insight can begin with a different perspective or change in perception. When we learn something new or begin to think toward the future, we shift our current way of looking at the world. This can push us toward reflection or to consider what and how we do things in a different way, beyond the customary way of doing things. This can lead to a totally new perspective, or even expansion of a current concept.

When we look at things in a different way, we can imagine new possibilities for what can exist. Creativity is what brings something unique into the world. This might start from looking at one idea and working with it, expanding on it, testing its limits, and seeing what we can bring to life. The creative process is different for everyone. There is no single moment of creativity or route to follow, but most creative processes have passion in common. Creativity requires the energy of passion not just for the pursuit of an idea, but for persistence in realizing it.

Determination is perhaps the unsung hero of innovation. We might shrug off the failures of ‘trial and error’, but determination is what allows us to do so. After a particularly disappointing error, determination is what makes space for the hope to try the next idea. Without determination, we might not persevere through those failures we can’t just shrug off, devote our time and resources to innovation, or even see success as a possibility.

What also allows us to meet new or unforeseen challenges is adaptability. One of the important lessons about innovation members have learned is that along the way, innovation will eventually require a change in even the best-laid plans. Being able to pivot or shift plans is important. Some members we interviewed started with networks of support and some developed them along the way, but all recognize that the network of people and resources around you make it easier to go with the flow of these changes and adapt.

This all contributes to what was probably the most popular way members characterized innovation – problem solving. The idea for the innovation had to come from somewhere. The process usually starts with a unique problem to fix – something broken, serve a new need, or prevent something from being wasted – that requires and results in a unique solution.

While ‘innovation’ can certainly signal a product that is new or a unique way of doing things, what we might associate with innovation is actually the result of a longer process of development, that involves a series of actions and considering a number of perspectives. While insight, creativity, determination, adaptability, and problem-solving feed development, innovation itself might also be characterized as an ongoing process, one that will always rely on the capacity and hard work of its innovators.

The members of the Small Scale Food Processor Association are innovating every day. How can we make sure that they are credited with their innovative products, processes, strategies, and business structures?