Innovation vs. Invention – Same Yet Different

The joy of doing new things or what is the difference between invention and innovation (sometimes called (“discovery and invention”). Let’s take a closer look at this topic.

Innovation as a term is quoted in many diverse situations and workgroups. Another related term is Invention. While the dictionary meanings may be related, there also exist some differences between the two.

difference between invention and innovation with examples

What is an invention? The invention is a larger set and innovation is generally a subset of the 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. Here’s a quick example of innovation: just take this Google Ads case study course to learn more.

Also, the 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.

What You Should Target as a Product Manager: Invention or Innovation

I believe product invention (or innovative invention)  is a fortuitous event and requires large Research and Development Teams. Even with big teams, the Invention of a new product is not generally guaranteed.

A few examples of product inventions would be a Personal Computer, a Mobile, an Alarm Clock, a Spreadsheet software, Bluetooth speakers, and 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.

A few examples of product inventions would be Google Search Engine, iPhone, Uber’s App, Amazon’s online platform, Facebook, etc.

Let us understand why the mobile phone was an invention.

It did what had never been done before: people communicating with each other using handheld 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 the first commercial mobile phones in 1983.

How was Google Search Engine not an invention?

Because it was not the first search engine. Basically, it wasn’t someone’s discovery.

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

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

So a thing which we will realize is that 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?

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Ask Yourself the Following Questions in Regards to Invention vs Innovation:

  1. Is my Product or Processor 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 Processor feature SCALABLE ?
  4. Is my Product or Processor 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.


February 17, 2020

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