Innovation I

Innovation is not the same as invention. According to Peter Denning,

An innovation is a transformation of practice in a community. It is not the same as the invention of a new idea or object. The real work of innovation is in the transformation of practice. … Many innovations were preceded or enabled by inventions; but many innovations occurred without a significant invention.

Michael Schrage makes a similar point.

I want to see the biographies and the sociologies of the great customers and clients of innovation. Forget for awhile about the Samuel Morses, Thomas Edisons, the Robert Fultons and James Watts of industrial revolution fame. Don’t look to them to figure out what innovation is, because innovation is not what innovators do but what customers adopt.

Innovation in the sense of Denning and Schrage is harder than invention. Most inventions don’t lead to innovations.

The simplest view of the history of invention is that Morse invented the telegraph, Fulton the steamboat, etc. A sophomoric view is that men like Morse and Fulton don’t deserve so much credit because they only improved on and popularized the inventions of others. A more mature view is that Morse and Fulton do indeed deserve the credit they receive. All inventors build on the work of predecessors, and popularizing an invention (i.e. encouraging innovation) requires persistent hard work and creativity.

3 thoughts on “Innovation I

  1. great comparison and explanation. I am tired of people using the word innovation to describe, what in the end, boils down to newness that no one uses.

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