To Invent or to Innovate – That is the Question

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I have always respected people who come up with fresh ideas and invent new things.  I have been fortunate to be part of teams that invented new products and technologies during my college years as well as my professional career.  But I have always wondered, what happens after something has been invented? As time has gone by, I realized the next step is to innovate.  That is if your aspire to dominate your field.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with invention alone. It’s just that nowadays companies face great challenges in keeping up with customer demands. Often, many organizations tend to overlook the importance of innovation, and focus only on attempting to invent new products or services. In great number of instances they end up with neither of the two. The result is outdated products that could not address the growing and shifting demands of customers.  Compare that with organizations that manage to grow their businesses and you will find they do not fear innovation but rather embrace it.

First, let’s define the two terms. Innovation is when you change something already in existence into something different, or one that is improved and modernized. Invention, on the other hand, is when you turn an idea into reality. Innovation and invention are obviously two different concepts but for an organization to propel forward and dominate, its strategy must involve invention and innovation. Put simply, invention creates a need; whereas, innovation improves on the delivered value.

Let’s take The Coca-Cola Co. as an example. Coca-cola (‘Coke’) was invented by Dr. John Pemberton in 1886. Asa Candler, a successful businessman, bought the formula in 1890s. Candler’s aggressive promotions made Coke the big name it was in the 20th century. For many decades since then, Coke dominated the beverage industry but during the 1980s, when dieting started to become popular among women, Coke felt that it had to adapt to the changes by innovating. In 1982, the company introduced Diet Coke, which later became the biggest selling low-calorie soft drink in the US.  In 2005, Coke made another innovation through Coke Zero to target young adult men who associated Diet Coke with women. This variation also targeted soda drinkers who wanted something that is as tasteful as the original Coke yet having low calorie count. Everyone knows Coke as a soda containing lots of sugar and has a high calorie count. In other words, when people became health conscious, particularly, with weight and appearance, Coca-Cola decided to innovate. The result was Diet Coke, also known as Coke Light in certain markets. Coca-Cola took it a step further to improve the taste and came up with Coke Zero. Now, Coca-Cola has consumers for Coke, Diet Coke and Coke Zero.

So how do you really go about innovation?

Here is a list that can jump-start your innovation efforts:

  1. Your employees are skilled in their field and probably have their finger on the industry’s pulse.  Get their hearts engaged in building your company’s future by encouraging them to submit their ideas to improve your offering.
  2. Your Customers will provide you with direct and honest feedback regarding likes and dislikes.  They have a vested interest in you improving since they will benefit from any improvements.
  3. Your Suppliers will provide you with insights on improving your offering by sharing their insights on what is working and what is not.  They have a wider view into the industry as they deal with your competitors’ offering as well.
  4. Your Competition offering is in the market and can be sampled, examined, and studied.  With dedicated time you can easily benchmark yourself against your competition and understand areas to improve and beat the competition.

Finally, it is important to take risks. Your strategy requires a component of risk to move you forward. Risks challenge your company’s capability to face adversity and competition. Many companies do not realize the importance of risks and choose to play it safe. These companies are the ones that remain stuck in their current markets imitating the innovative leaders.

To innovate for success, you have to make it happen. Leverage the ideas of your employees, customer and supplier feedback, and analyze the competition; you need to mold these elements into your strategy and create initiative to invent and innovate. 

Fadi Hindi

Author: Fadi Hindi

Fadi is an Executive Leader with a proven track record of bringing large Transformation Programs to the market and providing thought leadership globally in the areas of Innovation & Strategic Planning. He has over 22 years of experience across multiple industries including Financial Services, Consumer Products, Manufacturing, Pharmaceuticals, & Government (Federal & State). Span of Expertise include Management Consulting, Executive Management, Executive Board Advisor, Organizational Change Management, & Business Development. He founded the Strategy & Enterprise Architecture Society (SEAS) Inc. a not-for-profit organization incorporated near the Research Triangle Park (RTP) area in Raleigh, NC. Fadi won numerous awards including the Forrester/InfoWorld/Penn State University EA 2013 Global Award, CIO20 award, He is also a public speaker at global conferences including Gartner, Forrester, ID World, Gitex, & others.

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