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Innovation versus Invention: Why Companies do not get the difference

Most companies are out there inventing products but doing the less of innovation, yet the success of a company lies in the ability to innovate. To understand why companies do invention more than innovate a series of questions must be answered.

What is the Difference between Innovation and Invention

Without rushing to the dictionary or any other technical definition , we shall use the business and life sense of how to distinguish the two.

Invention: When one creates a product or comes up with something new that functions in a particular way. It may not necessarily meet the need of the society but can either be adapted to or meet the needs of society.

Innovation: When a product or something is made such that it speaks to the needs of the community and is readily used by society.

A company can get excited about a product that they have come up with but however they can also get the shock of their financial statements when the new product simply does not take off. It will turn out that the product is probably a very creative invention which has the best of everything put into it but the least of the customer experience needed to generate demand. This is the case in most situations of companies coming up with products, packaging or new processes. They invent but do not innovate.

On the other hand an innovation is when the idea that has been created into a product takes off the shelf and people are excited about it.

How does one Innovate?

Innovation is a sum of different processes which can largely be categorized into three things.

Listening to the Client

The existence of every business is to provide a solution for their clients or potential clients. Any innovation that is to happen must be a solution that meets the needs of the client. A company cannot be innovative if it does not listen to the client. Listening to the client means there must be the following pillars:

  1. A culture that is client focused
  2. Processes that are client focused and,
  3. Technology that is client focused

When these things are in place it means we are now able to solicit for the customer loops which are

Customer feedback

  1. Customer complaints
  2. Customer suggestions
  3. Customer compliments

These customer loops are critical for any business to understand what its clients are saying. However they cannot come about until we have the customer pillars for a successful innovating business. If the culture is not customer care oriented it becomes difficult to set up touch points that truly thrive on continuous improvement to meet client needs. It becomes difficult to have innovative products when the organisation is not deliberately oriented for touch point optimization.

If the processes and technology is not in place the organisation may miss the alignment it needs to meet the needs of the client. Listening is about being able to create the culture, the processes and the technology that enables the company to get customer feedback hence to obtain complaints, suggestions and compliments that can grow and inspire innovation.

Test the Experience

Moving from invention to innovation is not a one step road but rather a deliberate set of actions designed to obtain the client’s best experience of the product. An innovation can be as simple as changing the packaging of product so that clients are more in tune with what that product brings. You may not change the ingredient for coca cola but the packaging may be the innovation that sells the extra servings. A “can” may just be the innovation that a company needs to sell the extra drinks.

If we are to keep to a strict definition of innovation and are not flexible to meet the needs of the clients we easily fail the experience test. The “Experience Test” is about understanding what a client gets from a product which is the brand. A few questions can be asked on the “Experience Test”

  1. Is this what I want as a client?
  2. What needs is the product meeting?
  3. Has there been a history of clients asking for this innovation and where?
  4. What makes the innovation important to the client?

When we can experience the innovation and it gives off the right brand “feeling” then we know we have a product that can sell. A product by business definition is “The solution that a client is willing to sacrifice for in order to experience the satisfaction of a need or needs.” When the product can do this with regard to this definition then we have an innovation.

A product which does not give off the right experience is just an invention waiting to one day be relevant. If the company cannot find the relevant market for that invention then the product is not an innovation.

Meet the Demand

As good an innovation is, if it cannot meet the demand it becomes a historical event. Innovation has the ability to meet the needs of a community hence it is then talked about or referred to by the clients. Two companies can offer the same product but if one company fails to meet the demand then that innovation seizes to be associated with them and becomes just an invention that they have but does not meet the needs of the market. The market is critical in any innovation. An innovation which is hidden ceases to be useful because “Out of site, out of fulfilling the experience.”

When a product is being created the question that should be addressed is the distribution and market satisfaction. The concept of delivery is key to any innovation. There are many inventions that exist which are potential innovations but lack the ability to meet the demand. Many people will say they have created an innovative product but as long as it stays on their desk top it is nothing more than an invention.

Why Companies do not get the difference

Companies do no get the difference between innovation and invention because they are too busy satisfying their own vision and not the vision of the client’s need. A company’s vision should be borne out of the need of the market. To say “I want to be the biggest technology company in Africa offering mobile services” is not a vision for the client it is a company ego. A real vision gives us the understanding of what needs that is being fulfilled. The vision should place the client need as the function of the vision.

Becoming the biggest tech company can result in a company inventing so many tech products but not getting any takers. The products will exist but the innovation will not be present.

It is easy to start a company but it is not a walk in a park to meet the needs to the client when one’s vision is not client need oriented. The biggest companies do not grow big because of financial capital, they are big because they acquire the biggest customer capital. You are only as big as the number of people willing to buy from you and people’s willingness is only as big as the satisfaction your services or product experience provides.

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