Innovation is not invention. If you are well-read in the field of innovation then you will already appreciate this, but these two words and concepts are often confused by consumers who don’t spend all weekend reading the Harvard Business Review.
It’s an important distinction to make. Think about some of the most important innovations over the past decade or so:
• Apple iPod: the iPod was an MP3 player and the world already had plenty of them, but it was launched with iTunes. Apple redefined the entire music industry and made it easy and fun to download music, PLUS it was legal, not just stolen from Napster. Also, the scroll-wheel made it easy to use which was a very different experience to most MP3 players.
• Apple iPhone: Apple launched the iPhone to a market already dominated by Blackberry, Motorola, and Nokia. Everyone already had smartphones, but at the time nobody realized just how powerful a smartphone could really be. The launch of the iPhone 1 features a legendary presentation by Steve Jobs.
• Tesla Model S: Tesla really took off with the success of the Model S. It allowed the company to design the more affordable Model 3 and popularize the use of electric cars. Beyond the vehicle alone, Tesla completely changed the sales process for cars by bypassing a dealer network and creating their own retail stores.
• Amazon Echo: The Echo, and now similar tools such as the Google Home, have made hands-free voice-controlled computing a reality, but as more devices embrace the Internet of Things and are networked the Echo is quickly stepping in to play the role of smart home controller - connected to everything.
• Nest Thermostat: thermostats used to be controlled manually, if it was too cold then you turned up the dial. The Nest was probably the first-ever device to use machine learning in the home environment. It learns your preferences over time and then can predict what you want before you ever need to ask.
What connects all these innovative products? They were not new inventions. MP3 players existed before the iPod. Thermostats existed before the Nest. Electric cars were on the road before Tesla launched their first vehicles.
What all these products did was to synthesize the basic idea, take some other elements and ideas that can improve the central product, and then repackage the product as something better than those we have ever seen before.
The problem for most corporate leaders is that they are quite happy delivering tomorrow the same thing that worked yesterday. To innovate requires the ability to experiment, to regularly try out new ideas and to quickly use feedback to adjust, improve, or scrap the idea.
You simply cannot innovate if you don’t try out new ideas - there is no known way to just pick the ideas that are going to work. Ask Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Lauded as a business genius and the wealthiest man alive, but who can now remember the Fire Phone, the Amazon Wallet or Amazon WebPay? Amazon has launched many ideas and watched them fail, but they quickly shut down a new business and move on when it’s not working. It’s this desire to experiment and innovate that led to the Echo, Prime, and AWS.
Innovation is not invention, but innovation requires agility and a desire to accept failure and to quickly move on. You can’t find the great ideas without also testing the bad ones and learning from them.
First published on LinkedIn by Jonas Berggren, February 2021.