Invention and Innovation

This is an old topic but I would like to write a post on it. One of the common arguments is that an idea that doesn’t change the behavior of the people is only an invention, not an innovation. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:

Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.

In our history you can find many examples for inventions that become innovations after years or centuries. Sometimes the inventions are made too early. Typical examples are the radio and the TV. For other ideas the transformation from invention to innovation takes only a few days. Last but not least, there are innovative ideas as well.

Often the inventor and the innovator are different persons. In this post I am going to focus on the information and knowledge spreading between the people that is needed to transform an invention to an innovation.

Today there is a clear connection between the inventors and the innovators. Usually they are both professionals in the same or closely related fields. For example I am not aware of an innovation made by a journalist that is based on an invention made by a medical doctor. I guess there are examples for such cross-field innovations but they are not the majority.

Because these information and knowledge flows are quite narrowed I start wondering how much innovation opportunities are missed. The naive approach is to use internet for sharing. There are many web sites that serve as idea incubators/hubs but I think these sites alone are not enough. The main problem of these sites is that currently the ideas are not well ordered and classified. One possible solution is to use site. The main advantages are:

  • a single storage point
  • a lot of people who are already contributing

Volunteer computing projects, such as SETI@home, might be of a use as well. Automatic text classification is a well developed area though it cannot replace human experts yet.

Online games such as Foldit should be considered as well. If there are games that offer both fun and sense of achievement then they might attract a lot of people to classify ideas and actually generate innovations and other ideas.

As a conclusion I think that with the technologies and the communications available today and a little effort it is easy to build a healthy environment for generation of innovations.