Invention & Innovation: the tricky game!

Invention and innovation – these are two words which are often used as synonyms. Is that the case? Are they actually to be used in place of each other? Not necessarily; this is why we are here to clear this confusion and elaborate on this topic.

Invention; as dictionary by Farlex defines it is the new device, method or process developed from study and experimentation. Oxford learner’s dictionary defines it as a thing or an idea that has been invented; the act of inventing something. So, we can say that something which never existed before and came through someone’s mind can be termed as an act of invention. Now, let’s take up innovation - the act of introducing something new such as a new method or device is how Farlex dictionary defines it and according to Oxford learner’s dictionary it is the introduction of new things, ideas or ways of doing something. So, after taking a comparative idea we can say that innovation is usually a new manner or methodology of doing something. Isn’t there a very clear line that demarcates them?

Rather, it can be said that inventions paves way for new innovations. Inventions are all about something new; an idea or a product but innovation is more on the utility factor of it. Many multinational companies claim to be a “leader in innovation” and as evidence they display their patents. The baseline remains that patents are evidence of inventions, of having a fresh idea, of having thought of something first and documentation or registering the same through a legal process. Now, how can it be termed as an innovation? Only when its usefulness is established. Yes, only if an inventions’ utility is proven in regards to any process or technique to make something better or take it to next level can it qualify as innovation. Thus, one can conclude here inventions, not necessarily, equate to innovations.

There are many patents which really do not have a use or have influenced no products or industries. Patents without a ‘use’ are not innovations.

Digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty explains the difference between the two in very square and plain language; Invention is the pebble tossed in the pond, but innovation is the rippling effect that pebble causes. The ones who tosses the pebble is usually the inventor. And the one who recognizes the ripple will eventually become a wave. Now, that’s the mark of an entrepreneur. Like the one of the biggest innovators in technical and digital market has been Apple’s former CEO Steve Jobs.

Whenever innovation is discussed, Jobs’ iPod is cited as an example of innovation at its best. Have you ever thought the reason behind the same? To explain that let’s just rewind a little: - iPod wasn’t the first portable music device which hit the market (Sony popularized the concept of ‘music anywhere, anytime’ 22 years ago with the Walkman) - Neither was iPod the first device to put hundreds of songs in your pocket ( users had almost a dozen of manufacturers’ MP3 devices readily available when the iPod was released in 2001); - Another surprising fact, Apple was actually late to provide an online music-sharing platform. (Napster, Grokster and Kazaa all preceded iTunes long back.)

After the above stated facts, still can we consider iPod’s distinction as a defining example of innovation warranted? Yes, absolutely.

Despite the fact iPod wasn’t that the first portable music device, neither was it the first MP3 player nor was it the first company to make thousands of songs immediately available to millions of users, what made Apple set a landmark in innovation was that it combined all the elements — design, ergonomics and ease of use — into a single device (iPod), and then tied it directly to a platform that effortlessly kept that device updated with music.

Technically speaking, Apple invented nothing. Its innovation was creating an easy-to-use ecosystem that unified music discovery, delivery and device on a single platform. This simplicity of usage became a rage with the users and revolutionized the music industry. This is one all time example of innovation in history of technology which has changed the way music industry is being looked upon by music lovers.

According to Venkatakrishnan Balasubramanian, a research analyst, there are certain key points to ensure that innovation is successful by aligning your idea with the objectives of your organization. In short he put them briefly:

  • Competitive edge:

    Your innovation must provide a unique competitive position for the enterprise in the market, which sets it apart

  • Business alignment:

    The differentiating factors of your innovation needs to be conceptualized around the key strategic focus of the enterprise and its goals

  • Customers:

    You must be aware of your target audience who will benefit from your innovation

  • Execution:

    Clear identification of your resources, processes, risks, partners and suppliers and the ecosystem in the market for to ensure success for your innovation is extremely important

  • Business value:

    Assessment of the value (monetary, market size, etc.) of the innovation and how the idea will bring value into the organization plays a very vital role in selection of the idea.

Per say, very few inventions are, by themselves, successful innovations. Majority of innovations are evolutionary changes to existing processes, uses, or functions, which are made better by one (or several) inventions coming together. Like tablet is an evolution of smart phones, portable computers, touch-screen interfaces and content/media aggregation. All of these inventions very well existed well before the Kindle, iPad or Galaxy Tab devices. That is what sets innovation apart from invention.

We must conclude on the note that driving innovation is important as much as it is protecting invention. As the poster boy of innovation thus says;

“But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem.” --- Steve Jobs

We’d be waiting to hear from you, your inputs, reviews and feedbacks in any form; perhaps this will help us innovate our ideas better – for we know how to help you read better content.