Is It Invention or Is It Innovation?

23 Sep 2006|Darrel Rhea

To say that “Innovation” has become a buzz word in media is just the least of it. Major business publications – magazines, books, and online publications — are full of why businesses should pay attention to innovation, what it is, how to make it happen, and who is responsible. But I wish that authors, journalists and pundits would make a sharper distinction between “innovation” and “invention.”

Invention is about solving problems in novel ways. However, that doesn’t mean that the solution is necessarily beneficial, either to the consumer or to the company that worked hard (or not so hard) to create it. There are hundreds of thousands of inventions that never even make it to the market, and many thousands that do get there but don’t last, for good cause. Despite their seductive novelty, inventions often don’t achieve business goals for two reasons: they don’t solve a meaningful or relevant problem, or they solve a problem and don’t do it in a meaningful way.

Innovation is about generating improved utility that really matters to people, and this in turn creates value for them. Consumers will gravitate to these products and services, and the subsequent consumer preference, price flexibility and loyalty, results in significant competitive advantage & economic rewards for the seller. Both the customer and the manufacturer get tangible benefits.

Why is this distinction between invention and innovation important?

• For most businesses, a focus on invention is not a reliable way to achieve business growth. Inventions might or might not create value for anyone.

• Innovation requires we satisfy or delight customers and create value, and that is the most reliable way to drive organic growth.

The clear implication is that the customer has to be at the center of any innovation process, and this message often gets obscured by the perceived “coolness” of the tangible creative outcome.

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