Innovation, Invention – thoughts from a student

Today, I woke up and as always, just catched up with my twitter feed and found this tweet from (really you should follow him!) @zcichy:


“Make changes in something established, esp. by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.”


He followed up with:


“a procedure in which repetition of a sequence of operations yields results successively closer to a desired result”


and concluded with:

Iteration is the mechanism that drives innovation.


This got me thinking, what really is innovation? Is it all related to what a user notices at his product? Is a laminated display to be considered innovation?

So essentially the question:

Does innovation have to be end user facing? And if yes, please properly define end user. Good luck!

Another nice aspect is that tech companies really really often use the word innovation, but not as predominately as you might think. Yet as the first example to search for, because it’s often mentioned, I searched for Apple regarding innovation, and Apple is obviously making up its thoughts 1. And others, like well established and thoughtful people like Horace Dediu from Asymco is thinking about innovation. At one time at his podcast 2 he sort of analysed the change in speaking in press releases. There is this last paragraph in Apple Press Releases, which is essentially the same but at the same time not:

From 2007:

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning computers, OS X operating system and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and has entered the mobile phone market this year with its revolutionary iPhone.

The word innovation is in there. Now look at 2013:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

I don’t see a single mention of innovation.

Related to this, again, asymco has a nice piece.

Studying industrial engineering with economics and a focus on sustainable ressource management,

at one time 3, you might hear the courses “ressource strategies” and get a proper defintion of innovation. So according to my professor, there are 4 types of innovations:

  1. Basic innovation (laying the foundation)
    -They open up whole new fields by introducing a completely new technology, driving economic groth, closely related to Kondratiev wave 4. Best example: steam engine
  2. process innovation
    -You need less input for the same outpout. Example: line production
  3. product innovation
    -Innovation in products, example: sacless vacuum cleaner
  4. organizational innovation
    -Decrease in hierarchy, another example would be the building of Joint Ventures when they never existed before

I leave it up to you to conclude what specific thing falls into which category.

Continuing from the course:

Innovation as a process

has 3 phases:

  1. Invention
    (finding ideas, generating ideas)
  2. Innovation
    (selecting ideas, everything what comes after prototypes, so real products on the market can be counted as innovations, the prototype itself is not an innovation, the product is)
  3. Diffusion
    is happening the moment other companies grap the idea and make something alike. The photocopiers started.

I for myself haven’t concluded yet whether I fully agree with the views of my professor, but as is, this is one scientific definition of innovation.

If you find typos or have some comments and/or ideas, feel free to comment or tweet at me or ADN at me.

  1. They even have a study on it. I didn’t read it, but sounds interesting: ↩︎

  2. Sorry, I don’t remember the specifc episode ↩︎

  3. At university of Augsburg, Germany ↩︎

  4. Think of it as “basic innovation every 45-70 years" ↩︎

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