Creativity, Invention, Innovation
Artists, musicians and designers possess powerful creative skills. They imagine and reimagine scenes and sounds from the world. They create memorable and provocative pieces.
But pure creative types rarely invent anything. Creativity alone doesn't suffice for original or patentable breakthroughs. Why not?
Inventors often possess creative minds. They perform similar feats of reality bending. Invention differs from creativity in important ways.
First, invention is constrained by reality. While an artist can imagine paradoxical scenes like an Escher staircase, an inventor works within a framework of possibility, sometimes defining the framework along the way.
Invention usually requires engineering or science. An inventor without formal training may experiment in the kitchen or garage, but experimentation is the essence of science. Inventors may be self-taught technologists, but they are technologists all the same.
Invention can be tested by building a prototype. Like much of science, invention is falsifiable. An inventor often anticipates the limits of the possible and may take years or decades to realize the vision. Eventually, however, the method either yields a functional prototype or it was founded on a mistake.
Inventors may work alone, or in small teams. They benefit by studying widely and interacting with people unlike themselves. But they often find the spark of an idea while on their own.
Invention doesn't have to cost a ton of money. Limited resources keep inventors from straying too far into the ideal world of the distant future. Small budgets keep teams frugal, force them to hurry, and keep their focus on the types of ideas that can yield commercially viable products.
The best inventions possess all of the qualities of beauty that artists appreciate: symmetry, harmony, elegance, simplicity. But invention extends beyond human senses and into the realm of pure science.
Often inventions fall far short of the beautiful ideal, and work through compromises born of ignorance and limited materials available today. Impatient inventors may sacrifice artistic beauty in order to see their invention come to life sooner.
Inventions can often be patented, provided they are truly novel and aren't obvious to others, and provided the inventors are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, while waiting years for the patent office to work through its backlog.
But even serial inventors seldom produce innovations that form the basis for a commercial product, much less a company. Inventors may work alone and lack the resources to bring their ideas to market. From the opposite end of the size scale, big companies that have passed their innovative primes can pump out patents without really innovating.
Innovation requires both creativity and invention. But it also requires something more. To innovate, a person or an organization must marshall the resources to introduce an invention into the world.
Innovation requires a team. One person does not a company make. When investors look for the next innovative business idea, they look for a core team that can work together to build the product. Some skills may be missing, and the investors may help to round out the founding team. But enough of an organization needs to be in place, in however nascent a form. Successful innovators build the team and execute.
Innovation requires adequate funding. Whereas artists and inventors can get by on limited resources, innovators must marshall adequate resources to make their ideas real. Financial backing, whether from venture capitalists, internal budgeting, or wealthy founders, is hard to get by without. Even when innovators bootstrap, they often run up against a period of such rapid growth that they cannot sustain it without bringing in growth capital.
Innovation needs no patents, and by itself can't satisfy the legal requirements.
Innovation also possesses aesthetic qualities, especially in the final form of a product that people can purchase, experience and touch.
Amid all the buzz about innovation, it's easy to confuse creativity, invention and innovation. Each has its place, and each builds on the previous.
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Disruptive vs. Revolutionary Innovation
Building Blocks of Innovation