Innovation and Invention-Same Yet Different

The Joy of Doing New Things!


Innovation as a term is quoted in many diverse situations and work groups. Another related term is Invention. While the dictionary meanings may be related, there also exists some differences between the two according to me.

Invention is a larger set and innovation is generally a sub set of invention. When you invent something, you generally do it from scratch, While you may innovate on an existing process or product to improve its functionality. Also, invention applies more to scientific areas and research disciplines. Innovation can apply to something as diverse as a switch hit or a doosra in cricket.

As a Product Manager or as a Product company what should be your Target Strategy?

What should be your Go-to word– Innovation or Invention?

I believe Product Invention is a fortuitous event and requires large Research and Development Teams. Even with big teams, Invention of a new product is not generally guaranteed.

Few examples of Product Inventions would be a Personal Computer, a Mobile, an Alarm Clock, a Spreadsheet software, Bluetooth speakers, e-commerce

Product Innovation is a fortuitous event as well and may require smaller Research and Development Teams to start with although it should not be generalized.

Few examples of Product Innovations would be Google Search Engine, iPhone, Uber’s App, Amazon’s online platform, facebook etc.

Let us understand why Mobile phone was an invention.

It did what had never been done before : people communicating with each other using hand held devices and without the need to be stationary or attached to one location.

As per the history lessons, it dates back to 1973 and is credited to Motorola.

The important thing to note here is that Invention is generally the first Product/process/idea not necessarily having attained commercial success or scale.

Taking the mobile phone example, it took another 10 years for Motorola to launch first commercial mobile phones in 1983.

How was Google Search Engine not an invention?

Because it was not the first search engine.

The first search engine dates back to 1990 by the name of Archie. Google did not come into scene until 1996(it started as BackRub)

However, it was an Innovation, a superlative one at that. It utilised Backlinks and PageRank Algorithm to determine how important a page was with respect to others.

So a thing which we will realize is that a product innovation is not a first in the category but definitely the first to have successfully demonstrated some new Value for the user of the Product.

And more often than not, at scale.

An obvious difference that surfaces from above is that Invention is generally a Product category and Innovation is a particular Product.

What is the mental model that you as a Product Manager should follow to know if you are on the path to or have broken through an Innovation?

I think you should ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is my Product or Process or feature adding VALUE to the one who is using it?

2. Is this Value not AVAILABLE in the market today?

3. Is my Product or Process or feature SCALABLE ?

4. Is my Product or Process or feature doing all things CORRECT as per the law and regulations?

If the answer to ALL these questions is Yes, I think you have a Eureka moment there.

The greatest joy is in doing something new. I think it gives every PM the JOSH!!

This article was originally published at Medium.

September 12, 2019

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