Invention Versus Innovation

Charles Townes, the Nobel prize-winning inventor of the laser, liked to tell this joke to explain the difference between invention and innovation:

There’s a beaver and a rabbit looking at the Hoover Dam and the beaver says to the rabbit, “No, I didn’t build it, but it is based on an idea of mine.”

Invention is the creation of a new idea. Bread, for example, is a pretty awesome invention.

Innovation is the practical adoption of a new idea. Sliced bread, for example, is a pretty awesome innovation.

We don’t have to invent something totally new in order to innovate something brilliant. And, lest the inventors get all the credit, the innovators also do work that changes the world.

Inventors often get some acknowledgment, via patents or just a general sense of pride, but innovators collect the lion-share of the profits. Who makes more: the beaver or the dam’s owner? The inventor of bread or Sara Lee?

Whatever product or service you’re out there offering, it doesn’t really matter if you invented it or not. We can’t all be inventors. But, once a thing or an idea is out there in the world, anyone can innovate.

Go on. There’s work to be done.