What do innovative companies do?

Why is successful innovation so difficult and so rare? I think we are naturally drawn to things that already exist – things we can buy, use, experience, see, feel, and understand. To be innovative requires us to imagine things that are not really here. The distinction between invention and innovation also helps answer this question. To invent is to create something on your own. Imagine the inventor, tinkering away in his garage. Eventually, he might invent something that solves a problem or makes a task easier to accomplish. In contrast, innovation is more difficult. Innovation requires a market. To qualify as an innovation, there must be a supply chain, distribution, customers, and transactions that are involved in bringing the thing to the market.

At CitriClean of Florida, we invented a product that uses the cleaning power of dehydrated orange peels. The product works – it clears the hard water deposits from cloudy dishes. And CitriClean pays for itself – you can reduce your detergent consumption when you use CitriClean. So your cost per wash should not increase when you use CitriClean. Another innovation is that we have the “greenest” packaging in the industry – reusing is better than recycling! Who else turns garbage into packaging without shredding, melting, or crushing? Our most recent innovation is advertising on the moon! If there is water up there, it’s probably hard water. So we want to get a jump on the competition 🙂

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  1. The term “innovation”— along with it’s shopworn adjective, “innovative” and it’s breathless verb, “innovate!”— has become the rallying cry of every product manager, the pursuit of every design consultant, the autocomplete of every press release writer. The word’s been wrapped around everything from the Apple iPod to a new template in Microsoft Word. So how can one term be used to describe such vastly different things? In essence, what does “innovation” really mean? Technically, “innovation” is defined merely as “introducing something new;” there are no qualifiers of how ground-breaking or world-shattering that something needs to be—only that it needs to be better than what was there before. And that’s where the trouble starts when an organization requests “innovation services” from a consulting firm. Exactly what are they really requesting? The fact is, innovation means different things to different people.

  2. Jody Tompson says

    Thanks for your post, Laurence. “Innovation” requires a market to participate with the idea, but an “invention” does not. An invention becomes an innovation when it is the subject of a market-based transaction.

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