Updated: Sep 29
People often use the words “invention” and “innovation” interchangeably. This is not only incorrect, but misses a few key subtleties in meaning that can change a conversation. Invention is about creating something new, while innovation introduces the concept of “use” of an idea or
method. While this difference is subtle, and these words are listed in every thesaurus that I checked as synonyms of each other, they are definitely not 100% interchangeable. An invention is usually a “thing”, while an innovation is usually an invention that causes change in behavior or interactions.
Companies often claim to be a “leader in innovation”, and show a large pile of patents as evidence. Patents are evidence of inventions, of having thought of something first, and documenting the new invention through a legal process. The usefulness of those inventions is not proven, so “inventions” do not always equate to “innovations.” There are many patents which really do not have a use or have influenced no products or industries. Patents without a “use” are not innovation.
If innovations infer the “use” of a new idea or method, then an invention that leads to innovation is really qualified by how much it changes the behaviors of the users, the businesses, and the processes around it. Now perhaps the “Nose Pick” patent was a victim of bad marketing, poor manufacturing, or just a “right idea at the wrong time”, but obviously it has not changed behavior and become a commonplace item in the 14 years since the patent was granted.
Was the iPhone a great invention? We can dissect the iPhone into individual inventions and evolutionary consolidations of other gadget functions and features. There are really no ground-breaking inventions from a technical perspective, in the first (or second, or third) generation iPhones. What about the iPad? In reality, one might argue that it is merely a giant iPhone with a few updated features. Touch screens, mobile communications for voice and data, “smart-phone” applications and user interfaces, the “home” button, and tablet computing devices all existed (as ideas and as products) many years before the iPhone. As proof, all you have to do is watch some Star Trek re-runs on TV or watch a Stanley Kubrick movie.
Was the iPhone a great innovation? Absolutely.The iPhone created an ecosystem of media content, telecommunications, licensing, application development, and unified them all under one roof. The iPad grew on that success and created a new “screen” to expand the mobile and personal experience (a very lean-in style experience) to include more “lean back” ergonomics and interaction. The iPad, I would argue, pushed Apple and iTunes from music into video and more rich-content mar