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  • Innovation vs Invention: Definition, Difference & Importance

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    They sound similar – Innovation and Invention – that is why they seem to be closely related. Many people believe that at the beginning of an entrepreneurial success story there must be an invention.

    “The rest” is then just a question of “execution”. Although this perspective seems reasonable, it underestimates the risks and the thoroughly significant differences. For this reason, in this innovation vs. invention comparison, we want to explain the differences between the two.

    Furthermore, we want to address the risks if the assumption that innovation is just the execution of an invention would be actually adopted. Much more about innovation you will find in our new book “How to Create Innovation” which includes comprehensive approaches with mindsets, structures, and strategies to innovate in less time, with fewer resources, and more success. Register for the download now!

    Innovation Vs Invention: Definitions

    What is Invention?

    Invention is defined as the creation of a product or the introduction of a process for the first time, Invention is just the idea for a possible innovation, invention solves a concrete problem with the means of technology.

    The technical features of the invention thereby fulfill a function, whereby the problem – the task of the invention – is solved, the technical character necessary for patenting requires that natural laws be used to achieve the goal. An invention is also called a “teaching for technical action”.

    What is Innovation?

    Innovation comes from the Latin verb “innovāre” and means “the introduction of new things, ideas or ways of doing something.”

    Innovation differs from improvement and transformation in that the focus is not on doing something you are already doing better, but rather on doing something completely different from what you are already doing.

    What is Innovation

    Since de facto all areas of life form potential areas of innovation, it is not surprising that the concept of innovation has practically taken on a life of its own in recent years and has accordingly found quite different uses in business, politics, society, and science.

    This fact can perhaps also serve as an explanation for the fact that to date there is neither a self-contained innovation theory nor a generally accepted definition of innovation or the concept of it.

    Related: Types of Innovation in Business – How to Choose yours?

    Why Innovation Is Not Just The Execution Of An Invention?

    The central risk of this assumption is reflected in the number of inventors who never made it to practical use because some detail was still overlooked, or their invention was brought to success by completely different people.

    Schumpeter drew a central distinction from this. The invention process and innovation process were two fundamentally different processes. When we speak of “business start-ups,” Schumpeter said, it is the innovators who play the main role, not the inventors.

    Related: Digital Business Strategy Definition, Concepts, and Strategies

    The great breakthrough inventions, in particular, are often not ready for the market for a long time, are still afflicted with errors, and therefore easily fail at the first attempt, are not recognized for their significance, or are not accepted by the public. Successful entrepreneurs are therefore usually not inventors, but innovators.

    They draw on what already exists. The American economist Israel M. Kirzner has also brought this observation to the fore: “discovering what already exists”, for example, using the possibilities of arbitrage, is the core characteristic of the entrepreneur. The term is only seemingly paradoxical. Something already exists, so it does not have to be reinvented,

    but its significance and potential can still be recognized and discovered anew. The fax is cited as a prime example of this. The invention had been around for a long time, and it was used by completely different companies than the inventors and those who initially tried to market it.

    Related: The UNITE Business Model Innovation Patterns

    Why Innovation Means More Than Inventing New Products

    The more rapidly markets change, the sooner once-innovative products can lose their unique selling proposition. Permanent innovation is therefore a corporate obligation. Whether good ideas actually become innovations cannot be predicted, but forecasts are certainly possible.

    Hyped today, interchangeable commodities tomorrow: the struggle for the existence of innovative products, technologies and services begins even before they have climbed the innovation Olympus.

    Because markets change and the competition never sleeps. In a sense, companies are condemned to constant renewal. This applies per se to all areas and even more so to the service portfolio. Global digitization is adding to the pressure.

    At the crossroads: decline or turnaround

    If renewal fails, the cost trap looms: interchangeable services tend to yield lower margins and growth can only be achieved by cutting costs, which in turn forces more efficiency in standard products.

    If companies get caught in this downward spiral, there is little room for innovation. However, these alone would help to initiate the turnaround.

    The UNITE Business Model Framework: A Framework for Successful Innovation

    The UNITE Business Model Framework
    The UNITE Business Model Framework
    Designed By: Digital Leadership AG

    All of our separate model pieces fit into the comprehensive UNITE Business Model Framework. The centerpiece is the Business Model Canvas, which covers the six main areas of a Business Model (the Operating, Value, Service, Experience, Cost, and Revenue Models). The eXtended Business Model Canvas adds the immediate business context, including Business Drivers, customers, and the team, as well as the Unfair Advantage.

    Our goal is that every model and canvas we discuss can be placed within the context of your overall business model, no matter where you are in your innovative transformation journey. While the Jobs to be Done Model is beneficial on its own, using it in conjunction with the complete UNITE Business Model Framework and working through all the canvases we provide will let you realize the maximum advantage possible.

    How to Create Innovation includes helpful advice on every aspect of the UNITE Framework, including models like:

    You can claim your free copy of the book by visiting the book section of our website: How to Create Innovation: The Only Book on Innovation you’ll need

    Invention Vs Innovation Examples

    The Microprocessor

    Technological Innovation
    Technological Innovation

    As an example of the difference between innovation and invention take the microprocessor. Someone invented the microprocessor.

    But taken by itself, the microprocessor was nothing more than another part on a circuit board. It is what was done with that part – the hundreds of thousands of products, processes, and services that have evolved from the invention of the microprocessor – that requires innovation.

    Besides this one, there are many other inventions vs. innovation examples. 

    The Light Bulb

    It is not uncommon for inventors to be unaware of the commercial implications of their inventions. Or they do not think about commercial implementation until much later. Thomas Edison, for example, accumulated more than 400 patents in his first phase of work. One of these was for the electric light bulb. It was not until his second creative phase that he tackled the commercial realization of his most important patents.

    The Zipper

    Sometimes all that’s missing is the right push. Gideon Sundback, who patented the zipper in 1913, managed to get his invention into mass production. But it wasn’t until the U.S. Army started using the zipper for uniforms in 1917 that the real run began.

    AT & T

    Inventions often come from pure research institutions and their scientists are often miles away from commercial interests. This is true even for private research institutions. For example, the foundations for transistor technology were developed at the Bell Laboratories of the U.S. communications giant AT&T. In 1953, a small Japanese company acquired a license to manufacture transistors and shortly thereafter introduced the first transistor radio to the market under the manufacturer’s name Sony. A few years later, IBM used the same technology to develop small, powerful computers, ending the era of large-scale computing systems based on relays or electron tubes. The solar cell, now the basis of all photovoltaic systems, was also developed at Bell Labs. In all this, AT & T was essentially only a licensor. Others always made big profits.


    Similarly unfortunate was the research carried out by Xerox in its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). With the exception of laser printer technology, Xerox hardly managed to turn its own inventions into hard cash. Both the computer mouse and the graphical user interface, without which such a mouse is useless, were essentially developed at PARC – as early as the 1970s. But it was not until Apple made real innovations out of both with the Macintosh computer almost 10 years later. In the meantime, the mouse and the graphical user interface have become standards for computers.

    Innovative Vs Inventive

    Similarly, to innovation vs. invention, we also want to explain the oftentimes confused usage of their adjectives: Inventive vs. innovative. Two words that are also spelled similarly and pronounced similarly. Same as for innovation and invention the terms have slightly different meanings:

    Inventive is a term for someone who can design new things, someone who shows creativity in thinking, someone who is imaginative, and who can come up with something completely new.

    In contrast, Innovative is an adjective that describes someone who introduces new things, ideas or ways of doing something. This person shows creativity in thinking and imagination to take the next step forward.

    Related: Creativity and Innovation: Differences, Examples & Definitions

    Innovation Vs Invention: What Is More Important?

    While innovation and inventions may have seemed similar to you before, we have now explained in detail the differences between innovation and invention.

    Inventions Importance

    • Inventions require a completely new concept
    • Inventions provide evidence of the credibility of scientific knowledge
    • Inventions require skills
    • Inventions always have originality and are new to the world
    • Inventions bring unexpected results
    • Inventions should come first
    • Inventions are the building block for innovation

    Innovations Importance

    • Innovation brings betterment to the existing concept, service, or product
    • Innovation contributes significantly to the growth of a company
    • Innovation is always new but with a changed concept or pattern
    • Innovation gives a technical/competitive edge
    • Innovation demands a variety of skills
    • Innovation tends to attract the best talent
    • Innovation always occurs when there is a need to bring change to an organization

    Whereas invention can be described as a fundament, innovation can be referred to as the introduction of new things, ideas, or ways of doing something.

    Invention and innovation

    If we would need to answer the question of innovation vs. invention: what is more important then, it could be concluded that both play an important role in creating continuous value for a company.

    Industry Standard Approach to Innovation

    Since we know that the topic of innovation vs. invention will continue to be of significant importance in the future, we would like to share the following excerpt from our book “How to Create Innovation” with you: “We know – innovation is an epic challenge. Depending on where you are and how you play it, your levels of success and the outcomes you create will be drastically different, so a particular result cannot be guaranteed.  But if you do not make a major leap forward leveraging this consolidated body of knowledge, ask yourself what is going wrong, and do let us equally know what you have been struggling with.

    Using this proposed industry-standard approach to innovations, organizations can create innovation in a target-oriented way, leverage their strengths, create blue oceans and overcome luck.

    The practices we introduced are mostly well-established, have proven themselves in the trenches, or are deeply rooted practices by Silicon Valley players.  In addition, there are numerous reads to take you further.

    Our contribution was to identify winning practices, add what is missing and consolidate everything in a holistic setting and adapt it to the realities of large organizations.”

    In addition to this industry-standard approach to innovation, we have a variety of other ground-breaking tools and models. These are available via our download link.

    The UNITE Business Model Framework

    How to Create Innovation includes a number of canvases that focus on value creation and finding the right business model to meet your customer segment and customer needs. The framework is built to inspire drastic changes that help you find a competitive advantage. Our hope is that your company grows through business model innovation, and so we again encourage you to look deeper into our website and the book.

    Here is a summary of the key ingredients of the framework:

    The UNITE Business Model Framework
    The UNITE Business Model Framework
    Designed By: Digital Leadership AG

    Business Models

    The centerpiece is the Business Model Canvas, which covers the six main areas of a Business Model  (the Operating, Value, Service, Experience, Cost, and Revenue Models).

    The eXtended Business Model Canvas adds the immediate business context, including Business Drivers, customers, and the team, as well as the Unfair Advantage.

    Detailed Models

    A Business Model can be broken out into its numerous aspects. Depending on what challenges you face, you can zoom in on your area of interest using an appropriate tool or canvas:

    • Your Business Intention and objectives as well as your Massive Transformative Purpose summarize your drivers and give direction to what you do.
    • The Value Proposition Canvas details the central components of your offering (the product or service).
    • To dig into your Customer Segments, work with data-driven Personas.
    • The JTBD Customer Job Statement and Job Map frame the JTBD of your customers.
    • The Business Model Environment puts your Business Model in a market context composed of emerging trends and disruptive forces.
    • The Innovation Culture Canvas helps you understand and consciously shape a culture that supports innovation.
    • The Innovation team structure enables you to draft a team structure for your innovation initiative.
    • Using learning and growth metrics, you can measure progress at the initial stages of development. These metrics help you focus on what really matters instead of creating a detailed business plan that will not really help you. Later on, you can expand the financial aspect of the Revenue and Cost Models with a full business case.
    • The Operating Model Canvas helps you think through the Operating Model.

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