Invention vs. Innovation: Understanding the Difference

invention vs. innovation

Invention vs. innovation — Many people mistake invention for innovation or believe that every invention is an innovation, but this is not exactly accurate. The key difference to understand is that invention is about the creation of something new, without regard for value.

You can come up with a new idea or product and even secure a patent for it, but that does not automatically mean that it has practical value. Creativity for the sake of doing something different does not guarantee success in the marketplace. If you want to innovate you have to combine inventiveness with a measurable and marketable value-add. Start with identifiable value. Then create an innovation to capture it.

Here’s a great example:

In the late 1800s, people used oil lamps as a means of portable light. They were messy, not very bright and dangerous. The invention of the electric lantern, or flashlight, was an innovation and an invention. The development of an LED flash was also an invention, but not an innovation. It did not create new value, but rather just a new form of the existing value.

The Champagne Principle: How to Turn Your Uniqueness Into a Market Leader

the champagne principle

If you lived somewhere where you made bad wine, would it have occurred to you to make champagne instead? Probably not. But that’s what innovation is: taking sour lemons and inventing lemonade.

Consider the real-life history of champagne. Champagne refers to the chalky soil that was very dry and barren. Most people don’t realize that Champagne is grown in regions that make poor wine.  These regions had grapes that were acidic and perfect for making champagne.  But luckily Dom Perignon found a way to add sweetness and flavor to the poor wine to give it a better taste – but that sweetness made extra bubbles!

Same thing in cognac. That’s why they were the perfect places for the liquors that bear their name.

I toured those regions but didn’t actually realize how innovative they were until I was at a popular champagne winery in New Mexico. I mentioned to someone working there how remarkable it was that they had a winery in the desert area when it wasn’t a great place to grow grapes. The person agreed with me and said that’s why they made champagne. ?

Only then did I realize that champagne and cognac were invented in those regions because they could NOT grow wine. Necessity really was the mother of invention.

The Champagne Principle is about discovering your special resources, your special backgrounds, and your special techniques. From there you gain a unique perspective on your unique assets to present a unique competitive advantage. Champagne shows that adversity can be nothing more than the gift wrap that surrounds a success.

Often times our unique capabilities, strengths or even disadvantages create an opportunity for differentiation and market leadership.

Disruptive Innovation: How It Differs from Keystone Problems

What is the difference between disruptive innovation and solving keystone problems? Keystone problems are the things that must be overcome so that companies who have a nascent technology can actually gain the market through that technology. The rate at which some technologies get better may be faster than what the market needs. Simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability are just some of the barriers to be overcome to steal the market.

Dolby B introduced noise reduction, and made the cassette a dominant technology… until CDs, of course.

Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen who coined the term “disruptive innovation, talks about how IBM had a breakthrough technology when it developed the disc drive. Over time, however, they lost the market to smaller companies.

The potential for disruptive innovation typically emerges when you lack the quality or value to lead the field and gain a superior position in the overall market – but you can adequately serve a small niche. If the niche you occupy continues to grow fast enough and your technology progressively improves, you’ll overtake the leaders – disrupting their established market position. Disruption can come about by accident or through an intentional effort.

Here’s another great example:

Newspapers used to reap major revenues from selling classified ads. Then Craigslist came along and offered consumers a free version of classifieds. In doing so Craigslist disrupted a long-established mainstream market. Craig initially provided his list to friends as a convenience and community service, so his disruption was not really intentional. But after his idea worked he realized its value and began to engage in purposeful, deliberate disruptive innovation.

The Rubber-Band Principle: Using Value to Create Innovations

the rubber-band principle

The Rubber-Band Principle basically teaches us to discover unseen opportunities for value to create innovations that touch our daily lives

The rubber-band principle comes from the story of how Kraft macaroni and cheese originated. James Lewis Kraft, the founder of Kraft Foods, found a salesman in St. Louis who was selling boxes of pasta with bags of grated cheese attached with a rubber band. Kraft knew a great idea when he saw one and started to sell boxed macaroni and cheese in 1937. His company sells a million boxes a day even now.

What I find unique about this story is how it illustrates the principles of innovation in basic terms: technology meets need. Kraft foods had a very advanced technical product when it discovered how to dry cheddar cheese. During the depression, Kraft needed to store and transport cheese easily to make it cheap. What the salesman identified was the value–people wanted a good dinner. He connected technology with value—that’s the rubber band.

Do you want to innovate? Find unseen opportunities to connect the possibilities of technology with the possibilities of delivering value. The sales forces of many companies are out there trying to figure out what is valuable, while their engineers are working in the back on developing technology. Innovation only comes when someone connects the two. Go ask any engineer or designer in a company and ask, “What is the number one unspoken problem of your customers?” Frankly, most engineers couldn’t even tell you the number one spoken question. But salespeople know.

Think of the rubber band as the connection between engineering and sales, technology, and value. Put their heads together and innovate.


Creativity in Innovation

The Key to Creativity in Innovation is Flexible Thinking

All of the theories and techniques at how to be more creative have one overriding approach. If you can understand that theme, it makes it a lot easier to understand how to utilize creativity techniques and skills. All of the techniques try to have you do just one thing, and that is to think more flexibly.

I like this term thinking flexibly because it doesn’t push you to think differently necessarily. It keeps you rooted in your expertise and skillset but still conditions your mind to realize that you need to think in a lot of different ways. It also illustrates how you need to be more flexible with how you approach problems.

One approach is brainstorming analogies. We also work with another technique called synectics. These and other approaches all help get you to reframe or re-examine your products, companies, and products from a different perspective.

No specific technique is definitively “the best” any more than any approach to weight loss is definitively “the best.” You know you need to eat less, and you know you need to exercise more. But what exercises do you do? If you go to a gym or a trainer, they’ll offer hundreds of different exercises and programs. Creativity is the same way. It really doesn’t matter what exercise you do; what you need to do is get on the treadmill, get in the gym, and burn off those calories.

We typically envision creativity and the creative process with the “new” aspect and a great deal of what we are taught is about developing “new” ideas and solutions. Equally important, and most often overlooked, is the requirement for the new creation to be meaningful. The new creation must be appropriate and generate value in some way. The old adage of monkeys typing on a typewriter – the text will certainly be new and different, but offer no value, and thus is not creative.

Creativity is the Process of Creating Something New and Meaningful

The challenge in creative endeavors is to explore new spaces for new ideas and solutions that are relevant and meaningful to the goal at hand. There is an inherent conflict in this process: the expansive process of seeking new ideas and solutions and the convergent process of filtering ideas for only those that are meaningful. Often we are taught some very basic techniques for the expansive part, such as brainstorming or analogies; however, we are rarely taught how to use our expanded ideas and focus them on our goal of a meaningful outcome.

Some methodologies split the process and have some people work on the expansive task and then others on the focusing task; others simply split the two in time, expanding first without regard for meaning and then focusing down on a meaningful outcome. The key is to recognize that there is a conflict in the process and that it must be managed – expansion must not be squelched by meaning and random; meaningless outcomes of expansion need to be weeded out for the truly creative outcome that is new and meaningful.

In innovation, creativity is a vital part of discovering new value and solving high-impact problems. Problems that are deterministic or have a prescribed or known solution path are product development. The uncovering of new value and solutions requires unknown solution paths. These paths expand our thinking and perception while at the same time having tremendous meaning or value, this is the essence of creativity.

The Role of Innovation in Acceleration

Understanding the Role of Innovation in Business Acceleration

Growth in any organization is dependent upon the ability to innovate. Innovative companies boast 10 times higher return on R&D and 2.5 times higher sales, for instance, than their non-innovative competitors. Despite that fact, however, less than half of all companies achieve their innovation goals and benchmarks. But if innovation is so vital to success and sustainability, why is it so elusive and conspicuously absent in today’s corporations?

Part of the reason is that while innovation is a popular buzzword, it is not easily defined or understood. For many, innovation is a totally subjective term and a concept that they have no idea how to actually measure, quantify, or implement as a practical objective or business strategy. But if you have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish you’re doomed to fail. So to place it on firmer ground and make it more concrete, I define innovation as “the continual creation of new value.”

The Essential Ingredients of Innovation

Innovation’s three primary components are 1) value, 2) creation, and 3) continuous process. Top innovators continually seek new value while simultaneously developing the skills and processes to create new technological solutions to capture that value.

The game-changing iPod, for example, integrated existing technology (portable MP3 players) with a more user-friendly and robust interface and access to music. Similarly, innovation may take the form of a completely new technology – which is what happened when Kevlar used in bulletproof vests was invented.

Both the iPod and Kevlar created new value. The Apple product did it by understanding value in negative space, namely seeing unknown needs and wants and proactively fulfilling them – effectively carving out a new market. Meanwhile, Kevlar capitalized upon the known value of an existing urgent need by offering a viable (and potentially lifesaving) solution.

The Key to Innovation Acceleration

How do you become an agent of innovation acceleration? You must uncover and solve high-impact problems. In terms of MR-heads for disc drives, for example, the key problem was the read sensitivity of existing heads which limited recording density performance. Thanks to a proactive, solution-based approach, IBM capitalized on a rare and exceptionally lucrative opportunity to accelerate. As a result, IBM is the only company that has survived four decades of fierce disc drive industry competition.

My work focuses on understanding how to identify these keystone challenges in order to uncover untapped and unseen value in the market. After all, innovative problem-solving is the goldmine of the 21st century. Isolate problems others have not yet spotted on their radar. Offer forward-thinking, innovative answers and solutions. You and your organization will grow by sustainably scalable and profitable leaps and bounds and surpass all competitors by not just reentering the market but reinventing it as the innovation accelerators within your field.

Paradigm Shift vs. Representation Change

Understanding the Difference Between a Paradigm Shift and Representation Change and Why It Matters

The term “paradigm shift” has gained popular usage as a call to action for transforming our business and our success.  The term paradigm shift gained its roots in scientific discourse to describe the changing viewpoint or perspective about a problem or data.  In business, the term is used to describe a change in viewpoint or understanding, such as the brick and mortar consumer electronic stores, such as Circuit City and Best Buy, who shifted from a merchandise to a service model for business growth. A change in representation often occurs in a paradigm shift, however, there is a significant difference between the two.  A paradigm shift is not an active term, it is a descriptor – it describes that a viewpoint or understanding has changed, but not how, or by whom.

Representation change is the activity of you changing how you view and represent the world; it is an internal, self-driven, active process. It is how you newly look at a problem, how you have transformed your original thinking into a new perspective and understanding.  Someone cannot change your representation for you – although they can help guide you.

Representation change is the cornerstone of the creative process – to ability and need to change how we perceive and understand the world.  The tools and techniques for creativity, whether it is something simple like brainstorming or something more complex like TRIZ, are all methods to change your representation and with it enable to you discover and solve high-impact problems.

5 Tips to Change Your Representation

  • Change your location.  One company, in an effort to effect a great change in viewpoint, sent their US-based team to Asia for 6 weeks to work on coming up with a new product.  The fact that almost everything would be different to them forced them to see even the simplest task in a new light.
  • Improv Comedy. One exercise in improv comedy is to start a description of an event or item and then stop and let the next person continue the story or description.  Each person can take it in any direction they want – and almost always, never in the direction the other person would have thought.  Try describing something to a friend and then stop and let them continue their description of it.  The discontinuity in each of your descriptions will spur a change in your thoughts.
  • Walk away.  There have been several studies on the process of “leaving a project or idea sit.”  When you work hard on something, all of the details and contradictions are fresh and in the forefront of your mind.  Walk away – literally. Doing another activity and letting time pass allows you to forget – forget your old way of thinking.  Your experience in the “time off” may also inspire a new way to look at the problem when you return.
  • Find a novice.  Ask a friend who is not an expert on your topic and give them some data or example of your topic without your analysis or description.  Then ask them to describe the problem/topic in their own words.  The will certainly not see it the same way as you do.
  • Analogy and metaphor. List 5 things that are “like” your topic and then describe them.  Then try to use those descriptions on your topic. If you’re lucky, there will be similarities you didn’t see before that gives you a fresh viewpoint.