Innovation > Invention

Tags: Crowdsourcing, CrowdWeaving®, Innovation

It may not be surprising to find an article in Wired discussing innovation, but the opening of Bill Walker’s recent piece certainly grabbed my attention:


People often use the words “invention” and “innovation” interchangeably. This is not only incorrect, but misses a few key subtleties in meaning that can change a conversation.

These differences can also have significant impact on how we conduct research. Steve Jobs and Henry Ford have well-worn quotes (I’m sure you’ve heard them a thousand times, just from me alone) that are often referenced when excluding customers from the innovation process. The problem there is that Jobs and Ford were talking about invention, not innovation. In fact – get ready to gasp! – Apple does A LOT of market research!

According to Walker, the key distinction is that invention is typically “a thing” while innovation is usually “an invention that causes change in behavior.” Simply having an idea, a patent, or a product (e.g. “invention”) is meaningless if it doesn’t impact users’ behavior. This is why consumer insight is such a critical cornerstone of any innovation program.

This is also why it’s so important to make consumers part of your organization’s innovation culture. To truly impact and change behavior with our latest and greatest inventions, we need to very deeply understand current customer behavior, needs, and desires. Invention can occur on its own, but innovation requires us to possess deep consumer empathy. We have to know why they do what they do – and not just based on what they tell us. This can’t be done without collaborating directly with consumers.

Consumer insight and empathy don’t come from the questions we ask, but from the thoughts, ideas, and needs that we hear and see. Giving consumers the opportunity to be creative gives us a new way to hear and see needs and behaviors that often go unarticulated in other research. This is a way to get beneath the surface and really understand the emotions and irrational thoughts that are actually the primary drivers of any behavior. It isn’t until we understand these things that we can truly innovate.

Co-creation is not competition for your internal development and creative teams. Using co-creation research as part of your process will simply make their work more impactful. It will make sure their inventions impact consumers’ lives and behavior.

Co-creation will turn mere inventions into true innovation. After all, as Walker says, “Invention is easy – innovation is genius.”



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