We use a lot of words interchangeably in conversations. If we use something long enough to stand-in for something else, and if the difference is subtle enough, eventually people will come to accept the interchangeable meaning.
In recent conversations, I noticed people use innovation to mean coming up with new ideas. We “innovate” to come up with new products or services. “Innovation” changed the industry. In almost every thesaurus these two words (innovation & invention) are listed as synonyms. But, there is a subtle difference.
Invention is a leap of faith. It represents a unique idea so different from anything else that even the Patent Office agrees it’s yours. Innovation, on the other hand, is the process of bringing your invention to market with the goal of changing human behavior to lead to mass adoption.
The telephone is an invention. Your use of the telephone every day to call your grandma – instead of sending a letter – is innovation. The iPhone as a device is an invention. Your addiction to it on a daily basis is innovation.
The difference between invention and innovation is the degree to which human behavior changes. It’s the difference between a new “thing” and how much that new “thing” affects the people around you. In startup land, this is the idea vs. effective execution.
This subtle distinction makes a huge impact in world of UX, CX, Service Design, and Design Thinking.
Clients want earth-shattering, new, and shiny ideas that will give their products or services a “competitive edge.” That’s invention. The smart ones come looking for strategic ways to change human behavior through iterative, human-centered, incremental trial & error processes. That’s innovation.
*Photo by Giu Vicente