Innovation is definitely hot…Yesterday’s blog on innovation tools sparked an avalanche of inquiries asking for more posts on the topic of innovation. It seems as if each time I address the subject of innovation it triggers a Pavlovian response from our readers crying out for more information. While there is an innovation category on this blog containing several posts, and one of our more popular webcasts is focused on innovation and change, in today’s post I thought I’d go back to basics and discuss what innovation is, and is not…

In previous posts I’ve discussed the difference between incremental and disruptive innovation, talked about R&D vs. innovation, have discussed the many areas in which innovation can leveraged across the enterprise, and have opined ad-nauseam about how to manage and lead innovation. However, I’m not sure that I’ve ever really attempted to define innovation by subtraction…

What I mean by the aforementioned statement is that there is a great deal of confusion about what innovation is or is not. Thus I’ve decided to look at how innovation differs from two other areas (creativity and invention) which are often used interchangeably, but incorrectly as substitute phraseology:

  • Creativity: As much as my creative friends would quickly love to offer a dissenting opinion, innovation and creativity are not one in the same. Creativity spawns an idea…it is the genesis of a concept, thought, or vision. However creativity normally stops short of implementation. By contrast innovation is the process by which ideas are transformed from the theoretical into reality. Innovation is about action, application, execution, implementation, and delivery. Before the creative lynch mobs come knocking at my door, let me state that while I cannot, and will not argue that creativity has no place under the umbrella of innovation, it is clearly a sub-component of the greater whole, which is innovation. A creative concept or idea not brought to market by a process of innovation while a neat thing, is nonetheless commercially useless.
  • Invention: Science or invention is what examines, refines, and validates an idea or concept based upon research. Innovation is the process of commercializing the invention itself. What good is a patent without a market purpose for exploiting the intellectual property? Much like ideas, inventions that don’t have a defined and actionable go-to-market strategy are not inherently valuable items in the business world. Let me put it this way…eBay didn’t invent auctions, they simply created a commercial application for an idea that had been around since the dawn of time by leveraging a sound business model via great technology, excellent marketing, and a new medium…This is innovation.

Creative ideas and inventions may serve as interesting topics of discussion, or as personal achievements of some note, but without a path to monetization (innovation) they serve little commercial purpose. The purpose of today’s post was not to be overly harsh in an attempt to burst anyone’s bubble, but rather to keep readers focused on the important distinctions that separate the dreamers from the doers (the innovators).