Over the years I’ve had the same conversation dozens of times. It seems that the words “invention” and “innovation” are assumed to be synonymous. They aren’t. Simply put inventions generate patents and innovations generate profits. The clearest examples are the following. The laser was an invention, FedEx was an innovation. I’ve chosen this comparison since the laser is generally perceived to be an advanced technology and FedEx is generally perceived to be a boring post office like delivery company.
Bell Labs, an American icon, invented the laser in 1958. Scientist figured out how to excite certain chemicals to generate a single wavelength of coherent light. Think of a single sine wave moving across a PC screen, a single dimension. For years the laser was called a solution looking for a problem. Today, over 50 years later we see lasers prevelant in our every day lives. We have lasers in our homes with CDROMs and DVD players. We have them in our offices in printers and in hand held pointers. We see them in our hospitals as tools for all types of surgeries. The uses of the laser are the innovations that make money.
FedEx is an innovation, since it revolutionized package delivery. In fact, according to them, they were created to innovate. They determined that the "information about the package is just as important as the package itself". With access to this information their customers have created new business models and new supply chain efficiencies that have revolutions industry around the globe. Yet, they are not done innovating. They are a major mover in sustainable transportation with 365 hybrid vehicles and 43 electric vehicles (source FedEx.com).
Inventions are great and help propel future industries. But, it's those that can turn an invention into an innovation that make money and drive economies.
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