Innovation and Invention… get confused again

Lack of Clarity Misleads Others

Top 100 inventions 2010

Earlier this week Tesco Mobile (a division of the UKs largest retailer published a “Top 100 Inventions In History”. The survey asked 4,000 people to compile a list of the 100 most important inventions in history.  The results are a not too surprising collection of both inventions, innovations and adaptations. A shame as this will only lead to further “educate” the public into believing that innovation and invention are the same.

In the research,,The Telephone is (6), the iPhone is (8) and the mobile phone is (21).  In the true sense of the word the telephone is an invention, but the mobile phone is an innovation, and the iphone an innovation or adaptation from that. So what has the same “invention” been put in the list 3 times.  Sure the “invention of cellular transmission for mobile phone use was an invention, but the mobile phone itself is in fact an innovation from 2-way radio.

Seeing as the research was conducted by a mobile phone company there should be no surprise that the results are a little biased.

Innovation & Invention

The Open University say:

The concept of innovation implies that benefit is derived from applications of new market or technological knowledge. Sometimes it can take a long time for an invention to lead to innovation

Jan Fagerberg wrote:

An important distinction is normally made between invention and innovation. Invention is the first occurrence of an idea for a new product or process while innovation is the first attempt to carry it out into practice.

Risk Taking runs hand in hand with innovation and organisations which introduce a revolutionary product or technology have to take the greatest risk as they have to create the market.

A less risky strategy is that of the imitator. The imitator starts with a new product having a large and growing demand. The imitator then attempts to satisfy the demand in a more effective way. The iPhone was such a product, there was a growing market for smart phones, based on the market created by Nokia, HTC and Blackberry each in their own different way.

So using these definitions, the iPhone is not an innovation in itself, sure some of the merger of technology is, but smart phones that offer all the functionality have been around for some time.

Why is this important?

Its is becoming more and more important for organisations to innovate, and while popular research like this encourages a confused understanding of innovation & invention, innovation will forever be associated with product. Innovation in business is as much about process and culture (if not more so).

There is a difference between product and process innovation.

Product innovation is the development of a new product, i.e. one that does not exist in the market place. When an organisation adopts an innovation to enable greater operational efficiency, this is categorized as a process innovation.  This is where the new process/ adaptation has a beneficial impact on the organisation’s activities. We need to remember that what may be seen as innovative for one organisation may be “been there, done that” for another.

Process innovation is not just about the use of new plant or equipment but, can also mean a new way of getting things done.

In business we need to make sure that we understand what someone means when they say, lets get more innovative here – and that innovation is not just about product – its about attitude, culture and process too!

100 Most Important Inventions In History

The results from the Tesco Mobile 2010 research in the UK

1. Wheel
2. Aeroplane
3. Light bulb
4. Internet
5. PCs
6. Telephone
7. Penicillin
8. iPhone
9. Flushing toilet
10. Combustion engine
11. Contraceptive pill
12. Washing machine
13. Central heating
14. Fridge
15. Pain killers
16. Steam engine
17. Freezer
18. Camera
19. Cars
20. Spectacles
21. Mobile phones
22. Toilet paper
23. Hoover
24. Trains
25. Google
26. Microwave
27. Email
28. The pen
29. Hot water
30. Shoe
31. Compass
32. Ibuprofen
33. Toothbrush
34. Hair straighteners
35. Laptops
36. Knife and fork
37. Scissors
38. Paper
39. Space travel
40. Kettle
41. Calculator
42. Bed
43. Remote control
44. Roof
45. Air conditioning
46. Sat Nav
47. Wi-Fi
48. Cats eyes
49. Matches
50. Power steering
51. Tumble dryer
52. Bicycle
53. Sky+ (or TiVo)
54. Tea bags
55. Umbrella
56. iPod
57. Taps
58. Crash helmet
59. Wristwatch
60. eBay
61. DVD player
62. Nappies
63. Ladder
64. Sun tan lotion
65. Lawnmower
66. Make-up
67. Chairs
68. Sunglasses
69. The game of football
70. Sliced bread
71. Sofa
72. Razor blades
73. Screwdriver
74. Motorways
75. Head/ear phones
76. Towels
77. Push-up bra
78. Binoculars
79. WD40
80. Mascara
81. Hair dryer
82. Facebook
83. Escalator
84. Hair dye
85. Wellington boots
86. Spell check
87. Calendars
88. Cheese grater
89. Buses
90. Post-it notes
91. Gloves
92. Satellite dishes
93. Pedestrian crossing
94. Baby’s dummy
95. Curtains
96. Bottle opener
97. Food blender
98. Dustpan and brush
99. Desks
100. Clothes peg

*Some of this content is based on the OU module Invention & Innovation

List of invention top 100 from




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About Mike Morrison

Mike Morrison is a consultant and change agent specialising in developing skills in senior people to increase organizational performance.
Mike is also founder & director of RapidBI, an organizational effectiveness consultancy.

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  10. […] source points out there is confusion of innovation and invention on display, although I’d say there is a lot more confusion than that on […]

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  13. […] Innovation & Invention – Earlier this week Tesco Mobile (a division of the UKs largest retailer published a (Useful Blog post: http://t.co/4pcoUetA #biz…)…  […]

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