Invention vs Innovation from the customer’s perspective

By | September 2, 2011



An invention is not an innovation until it is adopted by the users ~ John Heskett


We think that technology has all the answers or can provide that magic silver bullet.  If we can simply build that shiny, new widget or make an app for the service, customers are bound to flock to the latest, greatest thing.  But as many have found, it doesn’t quite work that way.

John Heskett, who recently retired as the Chair Professor of Design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, taught a course I took at the Institute of Design, IIT Chicago called ‘Design planning and market forces’.  The  sentence I’ve quoted above is my best paraphrase of his explanation of the difference between an invention (or technological advancement) and an innovation, from the end user or customer’s point of view.

The Segway, he said,  is a great example of advanced technology. The iPod has often said to be nothing more than pulling together numerous existing technologies into a beautiful package.  Which of these has been enthusiastically adopted by people (users) around the world?

One of these managed to change the way people listen to music, how they purchase it, store it and share it. The other could have changed the way people moved. One was considered a major innovation. The other remained an invention, albeit a major one.

Innovation does not simply have to be just a cool new product alone.  iTunes was the accompanying service (and business model with an attractive payment plan) without which the iPod may have remained a very beautiful flash drive with speakers.

This is why we emphasize the need to understand the people before focusing on the technology and take a customer centric approach to innovation.


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