Innovation; a primer

Right, let’s start by getting real on what innovation is and what it isn’t.  Innovation is a term that is widely used, but is also widely misunderstood.  While many definitions have been provided over the years, the various derivations illustrate a tendency to confuse innovation with invention and improvement.  A simple way to break these down is this:

  • Invention is the creation of a new idea, be that a product, service, or belief;   
  • Innovation is the process of using that idea and developing more effective products, processes, services, or technologies; and
  • Improvement is the process of doing the same thing better.

Another simple, and slightly crude way of differentiating between invention, innovation, and improvement is that:

  • Invention is the process of turning money into ideas;
  • Innovation is the process of taking those ideas and turning them into money; and
  • Improvement is optimising the performance of a product or service without a change in that product or service.

At a high level the distinction works well as it conveys two important messages.  The first is that the process of creativity is central to both innovation and invention.  Although explicit in invention, in innovation the role of creativity comes through the different ways of thinking and doing in translating the idea into something with utility.  The second is that invention and innovation are dependent on one another; getting benefits from an invention requires the process of innovation and the central ingredient to innovation is an idea that has been invented.