For most businesses, it's much more important to innovate than to invent something completely new.
Innovating isn't the same as inventing. Inventing is creating something that hasn't existed before, while innovating is changing or combining things - usually for commercial benefit.
Yesterday I saw Larry Keeley (global innovation expert) at an event called Finding the Future First, hosted by Callaghan Innovation. Keeley told a number of stories and shared his experience and the research behind the ‘Ten Types of Innovation’.
The important take-away for me was that invention is really only concerned with ‘Product Performance’ in the model above but it's when you use multiple types of innovation that you create a game-changer.
Here’s the definition of Invent: Create or design (something that has not existed before); be the originator of.
Invention without innovation can just create toys. You may fulfil a personal desire to build, but may not deliver a return on the investment of time and resources.
And let’s not forget, Thomas Edison didn't invent the lightbulb.
Though he is often (falsely) credited for inventing the lightbulb, Edison did not create it. What he did was improve it significantly and make it commercially viable. Therefore, his lightbulb was an innovation.
Here’s the definition of Innovate: Make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.
There were up to 20 inventors who created an incandescent lamp before Edison; but his was much, much better. It was widely adopted and became the lightbulb - also making it too hard for the others to compete with.
Tech veteran Peter Thiel coined the phrase ‘last mover advantage’ to describe this effect. ‘First mover advantage’ is seldom actually an advantage because first to market often doesn't make much money or retain that position for long.
In fact, you're better to wait until you can deliver the best product because if you offer something unique and compelling, you can own the category.
Game-changing products are often innovations not inventions
Apple has made products that have owned and even defined their category. But as a host of industry critics point out, they invented less than they combined existing inventions into well built and incredibly well marketed products.
This is one of the reasons technology grows at an exponential rate - it builds on previous technology, rather than having to re-invent at every step.
Obviously the inventors need to be properly recognised and rewarded - but the real game changers are the innovators.
Today it's easier to innovate than ever before
At yesterday's event, Keeley also claimed innovating today is easier than it has ever been, because of the platforms available. I described this in my article How to Innovate like Uber - what I refer to as the ‘5 Principles of Exponential Innovation’.
Unless you are a technology company, you don't need to create new technology. You can just find new ways to configure what already exists in a way that your customers will value.
Innovation (and the commercial success that comes with it) is identifying and solving a problem that no-one else has.
This comes from deep insight, clever use of resources and providing a compelling customer experience.