March 14

Invention vs Innovation: What’s the Difference?

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Innovation has a very particular meaning for intrapreneurs. It’s vital for us to fully understand that meaning – so that we can then go off and create an successful innovations of our own.

Innovation is not Invention

Let’s face it. Innovation is a much overused term.

Every new product that enters the market is proclaimed as ‘innovative’ by it’s makers. This means that innovation has lost its true meaning and become just another piece of the marketing ‘noise’.

So in this article we’re going to try to RECLAIM INNOVATION for the intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs – and get a real handle on what innovation means.

Innovation does not means a huge technological breakthrough

Most people probably understand innovation as a technological breakthrough.

It isn’t.

It can mean a technological breakthrough, but in most cases that’s misleading.

Very little it truly new. Most innovations are based on previous advances. And many of the best innovations involve seeing what’s already happening in other sectors, industries or departments; and then transposing those ideas onto another area of business.

Don’t worry if you’re not a deep thinker – you don’t have to be truly original to be innovative.

Innovation is not just about products

This is the easiest mistake to make. Innovation can be about products, but often isn’t. An innovation could be about a new business model, a new process, a new way of engaging with customers, a new way of collaborating with partners or much more.

As intrapreneurs we need to learn to think beyond the product and look at the ‘whole’.

Innovation is the creation of a viable new offering

For our purposes, driving change inside existing companies, our defition of innovation is this:

Innovation is the creation of a viable new offering.

What do we mean by viable? Simply that it pays for itself.

How to Create Your Own Innovation

First a warning…

Beware of listening to your customers. What people say that want is often not what they buy!

If you go out and ask open questions about what people need they might say things like: “I need a better quality chair” or “I need more accurate scales” or “I need my computer to go faster”.

These seem like laudable goals, but it turns out that most people are limited in their world view. Their ideas are usually limited by what they think is possible and also by what they think is allowed. This is especially true if you are working on internal innovations in your company.

But what’s more – two psychological phenomena also kick in. Most people naturally want to please. This means that they will often tell you what they think you want to hear. Regardless of whether that is what they actually want!

Secondly they frequently say what they think they ought to say, in order to paint themselves in the best light.

Steve Jobs put it well: “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want. A lot of times, people don’t know until you show them.”

Steve Jobs Quote: It's not the customer's job to know what they want.
Steve Jobs on Innovation

So if you can’t rely on customers to help conceive your innovation, what do you do instead?

Go to the Edges

Let’s say you want to build a better restaurant.

If your goal is simply to create a ‘better’ restaurant than the competition then you will likely fail. Or at best, be moderately successful.

To build a genuinely successful restaurant your initial goal must be to build and AMAZING restaurant. Simply having ‘better’ service or ‘better’ food or a ‘better’ drinks menu won’t be enough.

To build an amazing restaurant you need to deliver a service that wows people – so that they can’t help but tell all their friends about the amazing new place they discovered.

To do that you need to go to the edges. Go to the places that your competition are not. That could mean a physical location – you could site your restaurant in an extraordinary location – but it usually doesn’t.

You might have extraordinary decor such as Choccywoccydoodah, only serve one desert such as the Cheesecake Factory, have particularly memorable servers such as (dare I say this) Hooters, or have the most expensive menu in the country such as the Fat Duck. There are lots of other ways to do this. These are just a few examples.

From mass market to exclusive dining all these places have found an edge where there was no competition and made that niche their own. And all of them have found a way to make their offering unique, amazing and most importantly – worth talking about.

So there you have it. Innovation is not invention. Innovation is about creating a viable offering. By staying in the middle – and playing it safe – you’ll simply create a product or service that is dull and boring. As intrapreneurs it’s important that we have courage in what we do, to take calculated risks, and create products and services that are truly distinctive and remarkable.

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