Innovation vs. invention. What's the difference?
In 1960, Corning was celebrating its recent breakthrough in strengthened glass by throwing frozen chickens at fortified tumblers made of the stuff. Those crazy glass geeks knew how to party.
When the hangover cleared, and the chickens had been scraped up, they discovered an ugly truth.
There was no market for unscratchable glass.
The automobile industry said no. The aerospace industry took a few samples, but passed. Corning had invented an amazing product that nobody wanted.
Nobody, that is, until 45 years later when a man named Steve Jobs called Corning. He wanted to create a device that was all display and no buttons, and for that he needed an ultra-thin piece of glass that could survive being in the pocket of a fifteen year old boy.
Aha, said an old guy in the lab. We already invented that. At that point, Gorilla glass went from being an invention to being an innovation.
People wanted it. A lot of people, it turned out. And that’s the crucial difference.
At that point, an invention became an innovation. We’re not in the business of creating new stuff, we’re in the business of creating new stuff that people want.
And that’s the crucial difference. A toaster that is fitted to your shower so you can eat breakfast in a hurry is an invention, certainly, but it’s not an innovation. Nobody wants a product that (a) produces a soggy breakfast, and (b) electrocutes you.
While innovation is hard to achieve, it’s not as impossible as most people think. It’s true that most new products fail, but it helps to look at what has succeeded in the past and realise what kinds of factors lead to success.
For more stories on how to find solutions to your innovation dilemmas check out our Disruptive Innovation course.