The Key To Innovation: Putting Ideas And Information Together In New Ways

from the but-you-can't-do-that-if-the-ideas-are-locked-up dept

There's a new, massively detailed, study coming out on the secrets to being a great innovator, and the key finding really stands out:
"What the innovators have in common is that they can put together ideas and information in unique combinations that nobody else has quite put together before."
Notice that one of the key components of all of this is seeing ideas and information that are already out there, and then doing the useful part of putting them together in a different way. This is something we've noted time and time again when it comes to innovation. Often, the actual "idea" isn't new -- but it's that it is put together in a better or different way than before, and that new way works better for people. Yet, when you have something like patents on the basic ideas (and, before some patent lawyer shows up to say patents aren't on ideas but inventions, let's all just agree how ridiculous that claim is), it makes this much more difficult and expensive. The classic example of this is RIM. The idea of wireless email was hardly new. Lots of folks had been trying to do it right. The technical issues behind providing email wirelessly were not difficult either. What RIM did was put it all together in a compelling way -- by recognizing how to package it all in a manner that was significantly more usable than previous attempts. And yet, another firm, NTP, who had failed to innovate and had failed to actually figure out a way to make wireless email useful, came along and sued, because it held patents on the very concept of wireless email. After a long legal battle, RIM was eventually forced to pay over $600 million to NTP.

Those sorts of situations should really bother anyone who believes in the importance of innovation. As this study has shown (yet again), real innovators need to be free to combine different ideas and experiment to see what actually works. The problem, as it appears to be so often, is the faulty belief that the "innovation" is in the idea itself. That's almost never the case. The innovation is in figuring out the right combination of factors that packages it up the way the market wants things. And now we've got another study showing this, though it seems unlikely to actually impact policy decisions, and that's a huge shame if you're a supporter of innovation.
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Filed Under: innovation, new ideas

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  1. identicon
    Rusty Mase, 11 Dec 2009 @ 11:16am

    Distinguishing Invention and Innovation

    The cited study and subsequent discussion here are combining two items that need to be distinguished; Invention and Innovation. One of the better discussions of this is provided by Hosein Fallah in Innovation and Dynamics of Knowledge Creation.

    Mike's commentary on this includes the following statement:

    "real innovators need to be free to combine different ideas and experiment to see what actually works.

    Innovators are essentially marketers. You can innovate and market a new brand of soup but competition from Campbell's and all the other major marketers of this product (as well as limited store shelf space) is going to seriously affect the success of that activity. The best product to innovate is a new product where you can brand it yourself. If you choose to innovate a new brand of soup and make it financially successful you will need to do a lot more simply "see what works".

    Invention is a separate step from innovation, a precursor. I would suggest strongly here that that innovation cannot be patented - only an invention can be patented - and then only by the inventor. Once an invention exists it may then be innovated by any number of people and may be best innovator win. One would hope though that the inventor gets some credit, maybe a reward the effort. That was the problem with the RIM/NTP fiasco. NTP was owned owned by the inventor, Thomas Campana and his lawyer and held numerous patents developed by the inventor. RIM, in the federal court decision, was simply called to task for innovating an invention they had not secured the right to use.

    Thus, invention and innovation are totally separate stages in the process of successfully creating new products. A good invention may be a waste of time unless it is successfully innovated. On the other hand, successful innovation without a good invention is likely to just take up more space on the soup isle of the grocery store.

    It is best to have both, great inventions and great innovations. Distinguishing between the two steps may therefore be extremely useful. It takes more than an inventor and it takes more than an innovator. Sounds like the best solution is simple cooperation.

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