Why You Don’t Need to be an Inventor to be an Innovator

Credit: Hensley Media

Credit: Hensley Media

Why You Don’t Need to be an Inventor to be an Innovator

When we talk about innovation, words that often come to mind are revolutionary, groundbreaking, extraordinary, and unprecedented.  We often think that innovation means inventing something totally new—something no one else has ever thought of.  However, that’s not necessarily true.  You don’t need to invent a new technology to come up with an innovative product or idea.  In other words, you don’t need to be an inventor to be an innovator.

Invention requires developing a new process, product, or service using new ideas or knowledge, whereas innovation requires making new or more productive uses out of inventions that already exist.  Innovation involves tinkering with the old, applying your own unique perspective to common ideas, and combining technologies that already exist to make something better—something that benefits more people, that serves new purposes, or that inspires and awes.

 Almost all of the companies that we consider the most innovative today aren’t inventing new technologies or processes.  Instead, they are repurposing them.  The mobile phone and the software behind Apple’s iPhone aren’t new, yet the iPhone has still been able to reshape the way we communicate with others, sparking a revolution in mobile technology.  Kickstarter was formed out of pre-existing technology platforms, yet it has enabled anyone with the passion to pursue an idea or project to receive the support and funding necessary to follow that passion.  The concept of monitoring your daily activity and exercise may not be extraordinary, but Nike’s ability to creatively combine technologies in the development of its FuelBand was.  In the case of these three companies, the technology and knowledge behind their services and products weren’t new.  What was new, however—and what ultimately makes Apple, Kickstarter, and Nike so innovative—was the way in which these companies applied them.

So, what can we learn from Apple, Kickstarter, and Nike?

Ultimately, we should understand—and be relieved to know—that we don’t need to totally reinvent the wheel to drive innovation.  Instead, we can and should use the technologies that we already know in coming up with new products and services.  When we play around with old ideas and combine them in different (perhaps even unusual) ways, we can surprise ourselves with the results they produce.

We all have the capacity to develop something new out of what already exists, and, in turn, we all have the capacity to innovate.  So maybe we’re not all inventors.  But at least we can all be innovators.

 

What other companies have come up with innovative products and services by repurposing old technologies and ideas? How has your own company used the old to create something new?  Share your comments below.

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