The many cultures of innovation1 October, 2014 / Articles
The word “innovation” buzzes around business today. Every startup professes to be innovative, and writers, academics and industry leaders stress the need for a “culture of innovation” in journals, news and inflight magazines. For those of us with a mandate to innovate — especially those with Innovation in our title — should we worry that the term will go stale?
In fact, I worry more because I see so little deep innovation. Rather, I find too many companies over-selling merely better inventions.
Innovation or Invention?
What is the difference? For me, innovation requires a radical new understanding of some basic questions of your craft. When James Dyson’s team designed a new fan, they did not improve the design of the blades: they created a quite new way of moving air without blades at all. Doing so, they overturned our most basic understanding of what constitutes a fan. Until then, fans had developed gradually in the eons since a caveman first wafted cool air with a leaf. Dyson’s bladeless fans are revolutionary.
On the other hand, incremental invention only extends what you already know. You have a lawn mower? And a separate garden vacuum? Put the two together and create a mower-vac. I can’t deny the smart design thinking, but I don’t see compelling innovation there.