||Animal innovations range from the discovery of novel food types to the invention of completely novel behaviours. Innovations can give access to new opportunities, and thus enable innovating agents to invade and create novel niches. This in turn can pave the way for morphological adaptation and adaptive radiation. The mechanisms that make innovations possible are probably as diverse as the innovations themselves. So too are their evolutionary consequences. Perhaps because of this diversity, we lack a unifying framework that links mechanism to function. We propose a framework for animal innovation that describes the interactions between mechanism, fitness benefit and evolutionary significance, and which suggests an expanded range of experimental approaches. In doing so, we split innovation into factors (components and phases) that can be manipulated systematically, and which can be investigated both experimentally and with correlational studies. We apply this framework to a selection of cases, showing how it helps us ask more precise questions and design more revealing experiments.