Innovation or Invention

There are a multitude of ingredients that go into the entrepreneurial mix and it’s important to discern each of them individually. Two ingredients in particular share a distinct parallel yet are commonly interpreted as one in the same: invention and innovation. On one hand, the similarities between the two involve critical thinking and development for solutions to unsolved problems; on the other hand, innovation can happen without inventing, but not the other way around. To invent something is to create a totally new product for its first debut generation. When we find ways to improve this new product with enhanced features, better design, or any number of progressive changes for subsequent generations, that’s innovation.

If innovation is about improving products and making them new again, shouldn’t that be considered inventing as well? Technically, no. Take a look at Apple’s new wireless headphones, AirPods. The new and highly innovative AirPods are a game changer for the way we listen to music, take phone calls, and even source information from Apple’s beloved AI, Siri. Imagine never having to untangle a wire or plug a cord into your phone again just to use your headphones. AirPods are practically our closest form of sorcery and, quite frankly, they have been a long time coming. Bluetooth technology was invented during the millennium and yet it has taken until 2016 for Bluetooth headphones to go mainstream. Wired headphones and microphones have been around for generations. What I’m trying to say is that while AirPods are a groundbreaking piece of technology, they are a product of immaculate innovation derived from a melting pot of previous inventions.

Innovation works in a market cycle where quarterly deadlines dictate product improvements that become available to the public. Improvement, however, is a questionable concept to product design because it would imply that solutions are being found for consumer problems. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? It’s not uncommon for companies to focus more on the exciting new product and its unlimited potential – leading to a “black hole” of addressing problems that don’t exist – instead of approaching innovation from a consumer standpoint. In an article from Innovation Management on critical approaches to successful innovation, Venkatakrishnan Balasubramanian developed the 5 Dimensions of Framework for Conceptualizing an Idea:

  1. Competitive advantage
  2. Business alignment
  3. Customers
  4. Execution
  5. Business value

These five dimensions share a mutual alignment between new inventions and innovations. Instilling a key element in your new creation or improvement that’s not on the market yet is a straightforward approach to getting ahead of your competition. Make sure your creation or improvement correlates with the direction of your company to paint a future perception. Understanding your customer and target market is one of the most critical values to discerning the future design of your products. Executing your idea with outstanding service to the market throughout production and distribution is a strategy that retains customer satisfaction and loyalty. Finally, mapping out a plan for revenues, market share profits and cost structure that complements the ethical image of your enterprise will be a reputable way to gain consumer trust.

Understanding the differences between invention and innovation and how that can apply to your ideas is a counterpoint to writing a business plan. Instead of exhausting all effort into a masterpiece idea, try taking it slow and build a business around a generational product. Invent something simplified and leave lots of room for improvement. Innovation can be applied from any angle you choose.




Kelley, Tom. The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm. 1st Ed. New York: Currency/Doubleday, 2001.

Grasty, Tom. The Huffington Post. The Difference Between “Invention” and “Innovation.” 2012.

Balasubramanian, Venkatakrishnan. Innovation Management. Five Dimensions to Conceptualize Your Idea to Make it a Successful Innovation. 2012.


Trevor Ottaway is a rising entrepreneur and the sole proprietor of Sunsational Rentals, a vacation rental company for beach equipment and cottage needs on Topsail Island. He is also currently enrolled in the Masters of Entrepreneurship Degree Program at Western Carolina University. Webmasters and other article publishers are hereby granted article reproduction permission as long as this article in its entirety, author’s information, and any links remain intact. Copyright 2016 by Trevor Ottaway.

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