Difference Between Invention and Innovation? Join The Debate

 Ever asked yourself how innovation differs from invention? Well I did, and the answers I found may surprise you! In search for a clear distinction I came across a large group of professionals on LinkedIn who have been discussing this paradox for over 4 years. While it seems that a clear business definition exists, a holistic version is still up for debate. For a thorough overview of the 800+ LinkedIn comments courtesy of the headstrong professionals, follow me through my endeavor to restore a comprehensive perspective in a very disordered debate.


The real difference between innovation and invention is contextual opinion.

If you are curious, have a browse of the 4 year old LinkedIn discussion attempting to distinguish Innovation and Invention. Unfortunately they are no closer in determining whether the chicken came before or after the egg. Although there are many inspirational definitions proposed, the majority of these clever professional's responses make my one year old son almost break out in tears. At one point the definition of a definition was even discussed. Luckily, Thad Scheer saved the discussion by pointing out the obvious; “innovation is a buzzword, invention is real”.


What is an Invention?

The numerous definitions of invention in the LinkedIn discussion are slightly more consistent than that of innovation. The majority define invention as something new, original, creative, tangible and primary. Some of the minor discrepancies arise around whether innovation or invention comes first and whether they are mutually exclusive or inclusive. Nikolay Bogatyrev put it beautifully with his walking metaphor. It doesn't matter which foot comes first, the point is, both are required to get to the destination. In any case, invention is grounded by legal jargon, and in most conditions patentable.


What is Innovation?

Many definitions of the term innovation given by the professionals on the forum contradict each other. I think Juan Velasco said it best, that the difference between innovation and invention is “point of view”. Many of the commentators suggested that innovation has to do with market adoption and profits. Many others identified more broad truths, that innovation improves and adds value. And yet others suggest innovation is like an organic or evolutionary process. I have to agree with Lars Christensen the forum creator when he highlights the most encompassing definition by Wayne Johnston: “invention = creation, innovation = evolution”.


Professional Innovation Keynote Speaker Jef Staes

Phillippe Packu was kind to provide a comment on the forum, and a useful link to a well known innovation expert. Ever heard of a red monkey? Well, Jef Staes explains innovation using a very interesting analogy of a rain forest. To him a red monkey is a monkey on the edge of the forest next to the ocean who wants to evolve because of some inspiration from a red fish. He goes on to describe how an idea in an organization has to be created at the edges, pioneered, and followed before it can be adopted by the rest of the company. I have to admit that his evolutionary approach in teaching innovation methodologies has me intrigued.


Is Innovation synonymous for business?

Should innovation be strictly a business term or should business heads recognize its other contexts? It seems that most of the definitions out there are convinced innovation is mostly about market success, and profit. Perhaps this is because, as a whole, business earns the most value from innovation. Profit is in no doubt a great measure of business innovation quality. But lets not forgot about all the other types of innovations and diverse value they can bring. Many personal and open innovations can value individuals and the social economy.

Can it be that in our race for wealth we have forgotten what pure innovation is really about? My one year old is innovating constantly. Are his innovations new to the world, and will they change the world? Probably not. Nonetheless, he is still innovating new function beyond the original purpose of existing inventions. In his ongoing creative search for new purpose in objects and processes, he is inventing new value for himself. His value has nothing to do with money or markets, it has to do with enhanced enjoyment. If we are to learn anything from the innovation and invention purists, it would be to recognize that every innovative action should strike a balance with the values rooted in the context of the surrounding environment. 

In your opinion, is innovation the pollen or the flower?