OT: Invention v. Innovation

Tim Rowledge tim at sumeru.stanford.edu
Sat Jun 30 16:31:40 UTC 2001

Henrik Gedenryd wrote:
> Andrew C. Greenberg wrote:
> > Forgive me, but I am in need of some solid authority and references
> > relating the importance of incremental invention or innovation, as
> > compared to pioneering and revolutionary invention.  In particular, is
> > there any consensus among authorities regarding the relative virtues of
> > the two forms of creativity or their interactions?

The distinction I was taught at Imperial was:-
invention is creating something new
innovation is making something new actually exist as a presence in some
suitable marketplace.

i.e. having a good idea is all very well but it does little good until
you can obtain it some currency. To stretch the point a little, whilst
it was only in PARC, Smalltalk was an invention, once it spread around
(ParcPlace, Digitalk, etc) it was an innovation.

> I think I agree with Alan that attending to small improvements (pink work)
> will indeed impede progress on a greater scale (blue), by detracting
> attention etc. The recent Internet craze probably held back genuine cs
> advances for 5 years or so, because everyone focused on exploiting old
> technologies instead of coming up with new ones. Bad for invention/progress,
> good for the economy.

Actually I'd argue that much of the waste was precisely because almost
nobody involved had any idea of history and spent all their effort on
'inventing' stuff that could be looked up in bazillions of standard
texts. A pretty typical process in my experience with CS types.... smart
young CS grad insists on 'inventing' a sort algorithm every time instead
of using a standard one and getting on with the important stuff. People
with engineering backgrounds tend to understand the idea of usig
standard parts; they rarely make custom nuts and bolts.


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