Both theoretical and conceptual understanding of innovation has developed significantly since the early 1980s. More noticeable, however, are the major changes that have been experienced in empirically-oriented innovation research as a result of the introduction of firm level innovation surveys. Collecting innovation related data via firm based surveys has now become a common practice for many countries for example, Canada, United States, Malaysia, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand as well as almost all EU countries. These survey-lead approaches have transformed our understanding of the nature and determinants of innovation and also increased our understanding of the role played by innovation in growth. At the same time, the surveys themselves have also been adapted as our conceptual understanding of innovation has increased. As such, the balance of innovation-related research has shifted from a theoretical to a primarily empiricist-lead agenda, and increasingly combined both quantitative and qualitative approaches. The objective of this paper is examine how our understanding of innovation has evolved over the last few decades, to identify the major theoretical and empirical influences on our understanding, and to assess the role which innovation surveys have played in this evolution.