Innoveracy: Misunderstanding Innovation

Illiteracy is the inability to read and write. Though the percent of sufferers has halved in the last 35 years, currently 15% of the world has this affliction. Innumeracy is the inability to apply simple numerical concepts. The rate of innumeracy is unknown but chances are that it affects over 50% of us. This tragedy impedes our ability to have a discourse on matters related to quantitative judgement while policy decisions increasingly depend on this judgement.

But there is another form of ignorance which seems to be universal: the inability to understand the concept and role of innovation. The way this is exhibited is in the misuse of the term and the inability to discern the difference between novelty, creation, invention and innovation. The result is a failure to understand the causes of success and failure in business and hence the conditions that lead to economic growth.

My contribution to solving this problem is to coin a word: I define innoveracy as the inability to understand creativity and the role it plays in society. Hopefully identifying individual innoveracy will draw attention to the problem enough to help solve it.

One example is in the following quote:

“Lastly, nationally circulating tabloid Ilta-Sanomat gets a look at Nokia’s fabled tablet computer that was developed nine years before the iPad hit the market. According to the paper, Nokia had its own innovative tablet device ready in 2001, but unfortunately it never made it to the shops. A former Nokia expert Esko Yliruusi says that the project was suspended a heartbeat before the tablet hit the market because it was thought that there was insufficient demand for such a device.”[1]

To explain what’s wrong with this usage we need some definitions.

The definition of innovation is easy to find but it’s one thing to read the definition and another to understand its meaning. Rather than defining it again, I propose using a simple taxonomy of related activities that put it in context.

  • Novelty: Something new
  • Creation: Something new and valuable
  • Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
  • Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful

The taxonomy is illustrated with the following diagram. The position of the circles shows the embedding of meaning[2]

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 7.54.26 AM

To illustrate further, here are some examples of the concepts.

  • Novelties: The choice of Gold as a color for the iPhone; the naming of a version of Android as “Kit Kat”; coining a new word.
  • Creations: The fall collection of a fashion designer; a new movie; a blog post.
  • Inventions: Anything described by a patent; The secret formula for Coca Cola.
  • Innovations: The iPhone pricing model; Google’s revenue model; The Ford production system; Wal-Mart’s store design; Amazon’s logistics.

The differences are also evident in the mechanisms that exist to protect the works:

  • Novelties are usually not protectable but since their value is very limited the copying is not seen to cause harm.
  • Creations are protected by copyright or trademark but are not patentable since they lack utility.
  • Inventions can be protected for a limited time through patents but can also be protected indefinitely by being kept secret. Their uniqueness may also be the means by which they can be kept a secret.
  • Innovations can be protected through market competition but are not defensible through legal means.

Note that the taxonomy has a hierarchy. Creations are novel, inventions are creations and innovations are usually based on some invention. However inventions are not innovations and neither are creations or novelties. Innovations are therefore the most demanding works because they require all the conditions in the hierarchy. Innovations implicitly require defensibility through a unique “operating model”. Put another way, they remain unique because few others can copy them.

To be innovative is very difficult, but because of the difficulty, being innovative is usually well rewarded. Indeed, it might be easier to identify innovations simply by their rewards. It’s almost a certainty that any great business is predicated on an innovation and that the lack of a reward in business means that some aspect of the conditions of innovation were not met.

The causal, if-and-only-if connection with reward is what should be the innovation litmus test. If something fails to change the world (and hence is unrewarded) you can be pretty sure it was not innovative enough.

Which brings us to the quote above. The fact that the Nokia tablet of 2001 not only did not succeed in the market but was not even released implies that it could not have been innovative. The product was only at the stage of perhaps being an invention (if it can be shown to be unique) or merely a creation (if it isn’t.) Furthermore, if the product is so poorly designed that it is literally unusable then it is just a novelty. A design, sketch or verbal description might be novel but it does not qualify as an innovation or an invention or even a creation. How far the depiction went toward making a dent in the universe defines its innovativeness.

Why does this matter?

Understanding that innovation requires passing a market test and that passing that test is immensely rewarding both for the creator and for society at large means that we can focus on how to make it happen. Obsessing over the mere novelties or inventions means we allocate resources which markets won’t reward. Misusing the term and confusing it with activities that don’t create value takes our eye off the causes and moves us away from finding ways of repeatably succeeding.

Recognizing that innoveracy is a problem allows us to address it. Addressing it would mean we could speak a language of value creation that everyone understands.

Wouldn’t that be novel?

  1. A video showing the device is here, in Finnish. []
  2. The size of the circles also suggests degree of effort required and potential reward. Note that this is not a Venn diagram. []
  • Innoveracy is a huge problem in Japan, partially because the translation is wrong. The Japanese translation for “Innovation” is 「技術革新」, which literally means “revolutionary novelties based in technology”. Absolutely no mention of the market at all. We would be better off stripping “technology” 「技術」 from this term.

    • JohnDoey

      Maybe “novelties” should be removed. I think the “revolutionary” part is the key. It describes the social cultural change the innovative technology inspires.

      • Removing “novelties” is not enough. The biggest issue is the explicit mention of “technology”. Technology is neither necessary nor sufficient for an innovation. It is merely often associated.

        The innovacy issue becomes most apparent when policy makers start initiatives aimed at boosting innovation. More often then not, they simply increase public spending on science and technology.

        If we removed both “novelty” and “technology”, then we will be left with “revolutionary” only. A bit too terse perhaps.

        I would advocate adding “product”. Innovation should mean “revolutionary product” and not “revolutionary technology”.

      • Pica Neim

        I think you are equating “technology” to “computer technology”.

      • Why?

      • Why?

    • obarthelemy

      Looking at words from other cultures often results in useful insights. Case in point.

      Thank you.

  • I applaud your initiative.

    I wonder if the suffix should have been -acy instead of -eracy. Root word of illiteracy is liter; root word of innumeracy is numer.

    It does not help that the aim is to construct a word to describe the lack of understanding and the word innovation itself begins with “in” – a prefix with negative connotation. I do not have a solution though. May be a prefix would be easier but that would mask the word too much.

    • claimchowder

      Illinnovacy would be more correct grammatically, but it would sound weird, wouldn’t it?

      • JohnDoey

        All I know is I’m confused by “flammable” and “inflammable.” I’m not sure which one of those is unflammable.

      • obarthelemy

        the flame-resistant one ^^

      • stefnagel

        Irregardless, run.

      • tiddiver

        Made my day. 😀

    • stefnagel


  • ronin48

    A few thoughts…

    If you are correct that inventions are components of innovations, protecting essential inventions can hardly be considered “obsessing.”

    If inventions can be kept secret, why can’t innovations?

    Innovations are not indestructible. They are vulnerable. If, as you say, an innovation is not an innovation unless it is unique, can’t it be destroyed or diminished simply by taking away its uniqueness? Copying is one way to take away uniqueness.

    • Ilari Scheinin

      True. And I guess this definition for innovation does define Samsung as an innovative company. They have been rewarded handsomely for being so efficient at copying, better than anybody else. But can the idea of basing your business model on copying others be considered an invention?

      • ronin48

        Copying, even as a basis for a business model, is neither novel, creative, inventive, nor innovative. It’s just copying. And it diminishes innovation.

        Being rewarded handsomely is not sufficient to define innovation.

      • charly

        Copying is the bases for most successful business. See Samsung and every other big electronics company, McDonalds, Walmart etc.

      • JohnDoey

        McDonalds innovated in mechanical food preparation. Walmart innovated in the way it deals with its suppliers. Samsung innovated in really large scale manufacturing and distribution.

        A key thing is that none of them innovated in the quality of the product. They copied the product from someone else and innovated in how to manufacture or distribute or sell it more cheaply and with a higher profit.

        So I think you are wrong that copying is the basis for most successful business. I think innovation is the basis for most successful business, but that doesn’t preclude that same organization from being a cloner or copyist. Dell is quite clearly a cloner but they innovated in how to sell PC’s direct over the Internet and phone.

      • Glaurung-Quena

        And to take it back to samsung, samsung’s phone business has been innovative in how they’ve leveraged lots of carefully spent marketing dollars to boost sales and make a profit in an industry (android smartphones) where everyone else is losing their shirts.

      • charly

        Dell wasn’t the only company that sold PC’s directly over the phone (and much later the internet). Being successful doesn’t mean you are innovative

      • ronin48

        How do you define “most?” Where is your data?

        Anyway, you’re off topic. Copying is not innovation.

      • Christian Peel

        I don’t think copying is enough or it wouldn’t sell. Samsung wen to the low end, and may also have had some efficiency innovations. Steve Jobs copied the mouse (from Zerox labs?), yet the Mac had other innovations as well.

      • ronin48

        Enough for what? Samsung is selling lots of copied IP.

        Apple licensed/paid for the Xerox PARC IP.

      • Jony0

        And Xerox copied it from Doug Engelbart :
        http://www.dougengelbart org/firsts/mouse.html

        He gave demos dating from 1968.

      • JackHuang

        big screen help here, besides copying

    • claimchowder

      But some are very hard to copy. Apple stores are open to everyone so they can be scrutinized by the competition. But they cannot be easily replicated because you need a lot of prerequisites in order to enable e.g. a Genius Bar:
      – small product portfolio (training cost)
      – high quality products (reduce support frequency)
      – reliable operating systems (enable replication of error situations)
      – high margin products (make free service economically feasible)
      Plus an awful lot more I am too lazy to type into the tiny iPhone keyboard during lunchbreak.

      • charly

        Bang & Olafsen stores look like Apple stores

      • JohnDoey

        And a lot of what makes an Apple Store tick is in the back room and the boardroom, not on the sales floor. There is culture there that had to be developed for years before the stores were launched.

    • Bananaj

      This is why first mover advantage is a real advantage – having a USP means a product is creating its own market rather than competing in an existing one. Disruption of the existing market occurs as buyers move over to the new.

      Copying or fast following aims to jump on the bandwagon, eroding the USP. The theory goes that if the following is too fast, the market will not reward and therefore incentivise innovation.

      Novelty is interesting in the phone market. In developed markets, buyers are used to changing their phone every other year and the pace of change means that they were used to getting a whole new interface and experience each time. Now as the products are reaching maturity and ecosystems support seamless moves from one device to another, novelty suffers and boredom can come in.

      Prior to iOS7, a classic anti-Apple troll trope was that the “boring” iOS interface hadn’t changed much. I see iOS7, the 5C and the Gold iPhone as deliberately introducing novelty to freshen up an experience. Amazon’s purported 3D interface is an attempt at differentiation, but if it doesn’t add real value then it will not qualify as an innovation. That remains to be seen; if the entire market moves to 3D interfaces, that will be the test.

      When cameras were first added to cellphones, the convergence didn’t seem to make much sense as the network services were not in place to unlock the full value. Samsung’s addition of a heart monitor is a novelty in the classic sense – it adds no value beyond a tick on a feature list. The suite of software/bloatware that came with the Samsung Galaxy S4 was a classic example of adding “innovations” that didn’t actually have value.

      Wall Street discounts innovation because it sees a glass ceiling on innovation in products once they reach maturity – once a product is done it is done. So the idea that good-enough $50 or even $25 android phones will disrupt the iPhone is the prevailing one. But the jobs to be done by a pocket-sized or smaller supercomputer can expand infinitely, so there is no need for innovation to stop, the trick will be to expand and differentiate the platform while continuing the business model of capturing the value of the software in the device itself. I expect Apple will be figuring out where their unique integration of the whole stack allows them to differentiate and concentrating on that as the thing that has a high barrier to entry and cannot be easily replicated by OEMs.

    • JohnDoey

      Innovations cannot be kept secret because if they are secret, they cannot be useful, and if they cannot be useful, we cannot test if they are innovative or not.

      A secret innovation is just a potential innovation. It needs to be tested. When the iPhone was introduced, most people thought it was crazy. The bosses at Blackberry thought it was a hoax that would never ship. The bosses at Microsoft said you’d never be able to do your email on an iPhone because it lacks a mechanical keyboard. The iPhone had to ship and prove them wrong in order for its novel inventions to prove themselves to be truly innovative.

      • ronin48

        You are incorrect. A secret innovation can still be an innovation.

        According to Horace, utility does not define innovation. Uniqueness does. So while secrecy might obscure utility it does not negate any uniqueness.

      • I think you are talking about patentable inventions. Inventions have to be unique (hitherto unknown) and have potential utility. If the utility is proven in the market, then you get innovation (either sustaining or disruptive). Otherwise, it’s just an invention.

      • ronin48

        Utility can be proven in a number of ways and not just in the market or by revenues.

        So innovation can exist, being both unique and useful, while also being essentially ignored by the market: wireless energy transmission and liquid fluoride thorium reactors are just two examples.

      • Kizedek

        This discussion was carried out somewhere else recently (techpinions, I think). In cases like the one you mention, there is still a “market”, of some type, where the utility is proven. It might not be the general consumer electronics market, but a more “exclusive” market — like nuclear physicists.

        If nuclear physicists suddenly all start using the new instruments or methods, then their utility was indeed proven in the market — it’s not just theoretical or potential.

      • ronin48


        The innovations I referenced are not instruments or tools for small and specialized audiences as you suggest. They are innovations that are superior and uniquely useful in the broader market but have not penetrated.

        And there are many more examples.

      • Kizedek

        OK, I get that. But you are declaring them “innovations”. I think they could be considered great (and maybe somewhat secret) inventions, could they not? It still seems there should be some wider degree of utility if something is to be “innovative” — as in, if it truly is superior and uniquely useful in most ways over the current method or product, then it will be widely adopted at some point, and it will at that point almost looked at, according to Ive’s expression, “how could it be any other way?”

      • Unless the invention has a significant impact in the market segment that it is targeting, I don’t think you should use the word “Innovation”. “Invention” is a satisfactory term for that.

      • Alcatholic

        Or those are just inventions until proven in the market per the definitions, right?

        It just seems that you want dismiss the article’s definition of innovation without spelling yours out. Under what definitions of innovation and invention are you categorizing wireless energy transmission?

      • ronin48

        No. You are incorrect.

        Wireless energy transmission, by any reasonable interpretation, would be novel, valuable, useful, and unique.

        In other words, it’s innovation.

      • ronin48

        Wireless energy transmission, by any reasonable assessment, is novel, valuable, useful, and unique. So by the article’s definition it is, therefore, innovative.

      • charly

        Wireless electricity novel? Isn’t Tesla dead for a century?

      • ronin48

        Relax. We all know about Tesla.

        The point is that wireless energy transmission was at one point novel and despite satisfying novelty and all the other criteria for innovation it is still, after many years, not proven in the market.

        Thanks for supporting my point.

      • charly

        I think that is what is wrong with this article. It revolves around the definitions of words but in real life words are more nebulous than their dictionary definition.

  • Petteri

    I fully agree. Very often in the technology sector ‘innovative’ (or even worse, ‘disruptive’) is just a synonym for ‘new’ or ‘different’, with no regard to value creation, other than the assumption of newness being a value in itself.

    However, if we always require market proof to validate the ‘innovativeness’, doesn’t that diminish the utility of this taxonomy to merely descriptive use? If we can determine something to be innovative only after it changed the world without really defining and understanding why, does it make sense to make such a distinction – couldn’t we just call it “successful invention”?

    The limitation with such a definition is that we do not know what features, actions and decision led to the product being successful in the market. Was it only the value creation potential? Was it exceptional marketing execution, or just good timing?

    Which leads me to my point: how could we deconstruct the ‘innovation’ to a more detailed set of conditions that we could employ prescriptively? Market success is clearly a necessity for an innovation, but not sufficiency, because there are a lot of successful things on the market that we shouldn’t call innovations.

    What are the sufficient conditions, the if-and-only-if, for ‘innovation’?

    • DesDizzy

      I agree with your point as “mere” success does not denote innovation. The example of such products is too numerous to mention. There are a whole host of other factors that determine market impact = see Samsung.

      • stefnagel

        Listened today to an episode of BBC Start of the Week, with Jeremy Rifkin, juiced some thinking about invention and innovation. Rifkin’s sense of invention included the attribute of usefulness, which strikes me as right. Horace attaches useful to the idea of innovation and unique, to invention. These might be reversed, with unique attached to innovation.

        Better than that, simply load up the idea of innovation up with even more attributes: Yes, new, valuable, unique, useful. And also significant. And leading. Or pivotal, meaning that what follows fall in line behind the innovation.

    • stefnagel

      Add this attribute: Innovations create pivot points, points after which industry falls in line behind, say, the iPhone … the iPad … Mac OS … App Store. It’s a moment when all the great decisions that went into an innovation obviate decisions by competitors. It’s the decider.

  • Steven Sinofsky

    Our mutual colleague Marco points out that Innovation = Invention + Impact.

    • JohnDoey

      Yes, the “test” that Horace talks about is an impact test.

      • stefnagel

        But what impact? financial? social? competitive? all of the above?

    • stefnagel

      Impact may be as misused as the word innovation. Maybe “invention” plus “convergence”? As in, “everything that rises must converge.” Chardin, O’Connor. Everything that follows falls in line behind an innovation.

    • That’s a concise and clever way of putting it.

  • c1u

    Reminds me of a recent Alan Kay talk ( where he discusses Invention vs. Innovation. Your thoughts are along the same lines, and I think Kay puts it very succinctly as “Invention is creating wealth, innovation is turning wealth into money”.

    • obarthelemy

      Interesting, thanks.

      I’m wondering about that relationship to money. Is that the difference: an invention is something really new (as opposed to novelty or creation), and an innovation makes money ?

      One could also maybe differentiate by: an invention does something new, an innovation actually gets used ?

      I’m having an issue with the “sum of parts” thing. for example, are touchscreens an invention but the LG Prada, which did not much more than make touchscreens usable/useful, an innovation ? Side issue: was the Prada not an innovation because it got trounced by the iPhone ?

      • Kizedek

        Perhaps it isn’t a side issue, and the question is, why did the iPhone trounce the Prada? Apple had never made phones before and didn’t have the distribution. Even if you, yourself, put it down to marketing, coolness or Apple sheep purchasing it in the millions, there must have been some other element that made the iPhone innovative..

        I would suggest that LG did little in the way of invention: there were full-screen touch devices for decades (PDA’s). So, perhaps their Prada phone was more of a “novelty” among its contemporary smart phones?

        Then Apple introduced a full-screen device with superior capacitive touch, multi-touch software, intuitive and consistent UI (with gestures, predictive algorithms concerning what might have been meant by the user and ability to ignore certain touches…). In short, a product married to a system which performed better than any touch interface to date, and made the stylus, single touch and mini keyboards at once all completely forgettable; forcing the whole industry to move in a new direction almost overnight.

    • obarthelemy

      Thinking back on it, there’s that issue with “success”. Similar to how “rich” got morphed into “job creator”, “innovative” is morphing to have to include “successful” (as in brings in money). I’m really really not sure about that.

    • That’s problematic for me. I don’t agree that invention creates wealth. Effective invention creates wealth and effectiveness is defined by its applicability.

      • c1u

        Is that not saying the same thing? For example the invention of Calculus is the wealth, where as the application of Calculus to do work in innovative ways procedurally extracts measurable value from that wealth. I’m just a little stuck on when the definition of application occurs. When first invented the L.A.S.E.R. had no known application, but through innovative application of the invention, trillions of dollars of value has been extracted from the invention. Or are you just saying that it’s only after demonstrated value in application can we say at all that an invention has created wealth?

  • I don’t think that kind of journalism is concerned with things like accuracy or even correct information, they just wants eyeballs and says whatever it takes.
    There are also in place marketing tactics requiring to abuse language in order to make your franchise shiner.
    Pundits however should pay attention to words and to their meaning, but there are many many levels of quality the expert market so what you get from a pundit changes a lot.
    Anyway good initiative, we needed a common ground.

    • JohnDoey

      Yes. They put in the word “innovative” for Google, not necessarily for the reader.

  • Grainsofbitcoin

    Based on this dichotomy, bitcoin and the blockchain must be an innovation, in the form of a distributed autonomous ‘corporation.’ The question then is magnitude of impact. Does it remain in a niche like comixology, or break out into the mainstream the way technologies on your ‘seeing what’s next’ post trend towards 90% market penetration. Many innovations, like the Wii, are valid innovations, but fail to reach massive magnitude of impact. VCs appear to be in the ‘large magnitude of impact’ camp.

    • charly

      Bitcoins are an innovation in ponzi schemes

      • Grainsofbitcoin

        “But there is another form of ignorance which seems to be universal: the inability to understand the concept and role of innovation”

        I’m not aware of hundreds of millions in VC money poured into Ponzi schemes in the past, but if you are right, that is quite an innovation in the Ponzi category.

        If you are wrong, than you misunderstand what you are scorning, which is a common symptom of innoveracy.

        Occam’s razor.

      • Bruce_Mc

        “I’m not aware of hundreds of millions in VC money poured into Ponzi schemes…”

        Anything is possible. Have you read “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds?”

      • charly

        That petshop in the first internet wave is an obvious candidate for a VC Ponzi scheme. VC, masters in pump & dump

      • JohnDoey

        One example of a Ponzi scheme that people poured hundreds of millions of dollars into is Bernie Madoff. That is just one example, pulled out of my memory, and I’m not someone who tracks that stuff.

      • obarthelemy

        google: tulip bulbs.

      • Bruce_Mc

        Tulip bulbs are covered in “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” mentioned below. First published in 1841, still in print.

    • JohnDoey

      Have all the other currencies now become crypto currencies? If not, then Bitcoin was not innovative in currencies. Maybe it is innovative in cryptology, maybe it is innovative in scams.

      • obarthelemy

        So since not all computers have become tablets, tablets are not an innovation ?

      • stefnagel

        No. But all tablets have become iPads.

  • Innumeracy is a serious problem, especially in a Big-Data world. I touched on that here.

  • DesDizzy

    Might be simpler to call “innovation” applied invention as in applied physicist.

  • DesDizzy

    I think if we substituted a word/words such as “market impact” or “sector dynamics” or even “market disruption” within your taxonomy. These would be better descriptives than “mere” commercial impact.

  • poke

    This is why I’m skeptical of initiatives like Google[x] and corporate labs generally. Something like Google[x] is about novelty and then filtering that into creativity and invention, and only then addressing issues of innovation. But, to be honest, novelty is easy to come by. When these initiatives talk about their willingness to consider radical ideas, willingness to be wrong, etc, I think they have it back to front. If you have intelligent people working for you, you can rely on their novelty, creativity and inventiveness. Those things are best looked at as resources, rather than products.

    What you need is a better understanding of the change you’re trying to make, which isn’t going to come from a lab, regardless of how much freedom it’s given. Sometimes I think businesses need philosophy departments, rather than labs. People who can ask, “What does this mean?” That’s kind of the role Jobs played at Apple, I think.

    • JohnDoey

      This reminds me of how Jobs said you have to start with the user and work backwards to make the technology that suits their needs. If you start with the hammer then everything looks like a nail. If you start with the screw you work backwards to developing the screwdriver and it is actually useful.

    • stefnagel

      Speaking of Aristotle … We can ask four critical questions, related to the four causes: What’s to be done? Who can do it? How can it be done? And your question, Why do it?

  • Bruce_Mc

    I think Microsoft deliberately destroyed much of the meaning of this word with their “Freedom to Innovate” campaign around the turn of the century. It’s good of you to try to make this word more meaningful.

  • Space Gorilla

    Recently it seems innovation is being defined as ‘not what Apple is doing’, in order to support the meme that Apple is not innovative.

  • jinglesthula

    The video linked to in the footnotes that shows the Nokia device – I’m pretty sure it’s solidly inline with other tablet-form-factor devices of its era. Apple, of course, didn’t invent the form factor. They did innovate in the space, and did so in a profound way.

    • jinglesthula

      Incidentally, if it had been released, I wonder if people would’ve quipped things like “Hey, that’s just a big Palm Pilot!”

      • JohnDoey

        The “big Palm Pilot” was the 1992 Newton. The Palm Pilot was the “small Newton.” Palm was founded by Newton developers.

  • Walt French

    What a useful taxonomy and what an awful neologism. Let’s hope we come up with a better word.

    This blog is famous for trying to understand innovation, but I think the key word is understand and the problem is incomprehension or miscomprehension of what it takes for innovation. We probably need an agreed term for the positive characteristic before we have a good one for its absence.

    I propose looking at something like, “innovation systemics” or “paradigms of innovation” (since I grew up before abuse of Kuhn’s ideas in Structure… trashed that word and maybe it’s been long enough we can recycle it).

    Then perhaps, “dysparadigmatics” can be born.

  • JohnDoey

    For me, the hallmark of innovation in a product is when it is so much more useful than all of its competitors, that all the competitors have to change to be like the innovative product.

    You can clearly see that with the original Mac, NeXT, Newton, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. You can clearly see it with the palm-rests-and-pointing-device of the 1991 Mac notebooks that appeared in all the other notebook brands in the late 1990’s. You can see it in the first mobile ARM chip in the Newton in 1992, from which descends all PDA’s, iPods, and smartphones. You can clearly see it with the built-in Wi-Fi of 1999 Mac notebooks that appeared in all the other notebook brands in 2003. You can see it with NeXT in 1998 leading to NT in 1995. You can see it with iTunes Store and App Store and Apple Store spawning many imitators.

    To be fair to Apple competitors, you can see innovation in Windows 95’s little shortcut arrow that appeared on an icon when it was not the actual file, but rather just a shortcut to it. That was much, much more useful than Apple’s method of inscrutably italicizing the filename of shortcuts, and Apple adopted the little shortcut arrow in Mac OS X. Which is kind of nice because the rest of Windows 95 was cribbed from NeXT and Mac.

    Is everybody copying you? Then you were probably innovative. If they are not, then you most certainly were not innovative.

    The 2001 Nokia tablet you use an example cannot by definition be innovative because it was never useful, because it was never released. Even if somehow it was ARM-based and had multi-touch — which it didn’t — if you don’t release it, it can’t be useful, it can’t be innovative.

    • charly

      Was Apple really the first to sell a laptop with wifi or was it the first to sell a laptop with wifi integrated. My guess it is the latter. Besides wireless networking is something which i would not call an invention as it is something quite obvious. How it is done is inventive but that it is done isn’t. People even used infrared before wifi for networking.
      BeOS had an app store, mp3 stores existed before mp3 players even existed and were quite obvious (instead of pirating you pay fore it, duh) and if a remembered correctly the first mp3 player already sold music. Most computer stores started out by selling own brand computers. WIndows NT does not look like Next, it looks like VMS. WindowsNT is not a *nix clone unlike every other semi-successful OS in the PC era

      • When talking about innovations, being first is not the issue. The issue is whether you had a big impact in the market. Being first is an issue for inventions but not innovations.

        Maybe there was a laptop with WiFi before the iBook. Maybe BeOS had an app store.

        When we are talking about Innovations, it doesn’t matter. There was no impact.

      • Petteri

        It’s true – many innovations that made a big impact on the market were not the *first* time they were invented. The interesting question is why the invention turned into an innovation this particular time?

        One rather obvious one feature is being ‘good enough’ to overcome the initial switching cost for users. This is by the way rather typical pattern of a successful innovation: it is often preceded by similar inventions that on surface look the same but have lacked some crucial piece of the concept or technology to make it good enough. In Geoffrey Moore’s terminology, these have been 80% products in a market that demanded a 100% fit.

        The other feature is being at the right place at the right time. There has to be demand (latent or overt) for the solution the invention is providing. Here, being too early in the market is equally bad as being too late.

        The upside of this feature (or happenstance as it really is more often than later claimed by historians) of course is that “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”.

      • drx1

        I remember BeOS. I ran BeOS on a Umax S900? … (similar to a 9500, DP 604e).

        Yeah, first is often not the best. Often first is junk, garbage with (maybe) some promise. BeOS was great for what it was … but NeXT had the advantage. I don’t think Be could have brought Apple to where it is now.

        Windows NT was sort of borrowed from ‘Unix’ … with a weird shell… that morphed into W2K and then WXP/WServer. NeXT was way ahead of any “NT” until (maybe) Windows 7/64bit.

      • charly

        Windows NT is a vms clone with to much attention given to ease of use. It never was a *nix clone except in the things they got from dos and should you be proud of that? NT was always ahead of Next

      • drx1

        well by *nix “clone” I was referring to some marking Microsoft was doing and the fact that (iirc) it was (and is) posix compliant and had ‘modern’ features.

        NT is nothing – for anyone – to be proud of. It was ok … but many mediocre products helped motivate people (Linux, et al) to build Linux in the 90s and while it may never have a big market for desktops – it can be a good alternative for geeks, tinkerers, nerds and the curious … and even serious work.

        NeXT was and is always ahead of NT.

      • obarthelemy

        NT had preemptive multitasking and memory protection, which put it well ahead of say, MacOS, at the time.

        It also had backwards compatibility, which had a heavy cost in terms of UI and features, but was a very wise compromise.

        And by market success, which seems to be one of the criteria, it was hugely ahead of NeXT.

      • charly

        NeXT is *nix. Not the most advanced OS in the world. NT was always more advanced but *nix always ruled the world. Still does because it is simple unlike the to complicated for lazy humans NT

  • DesDizzy

    Paradigm shift?

  • fufas

    Horace. I think you mistake the meaning of Novelty. Novelty is not JUST something new. It is a NEW emergent property that redefines the system and the jobs to be done. You should have a peek at systems theory and strong emergent. This is the foundation of all innovation.

    In this case Mankind is a strong emergent artifact of the novelty engine which creates it. Primarily this planet and local star. The question then becomes what is “it’s job to be done”?

    In a world that gives rise to increasingly more fantastic novelty, the emergent structures redifine the “job being done” which tends to eventually gravitate towards creating higher order consciousness.

    This clue begins to allow for an understanding of why technology exists and what its paramount job must accomplish.

    Keep in mind strong emergence and the accompaning novelty often implies something operating outside the system. An observer. Who may this be?

    In summary the assumption that novelty is a gold iphone is a grossly juvenile attempt to describe what happens during creation.

    “Although strong emergence is logically possible, it is uncomfortably like magic. How does an irreducible but supervenient downward causal power arise, since by definition it cannot be due to the aggregation of the micro-level potentialities? Such causal powers would be quite unlike anything within our scientific ken. This not only indicates how they will discomfort reasonable forms of materialism. Their mysteriousness will only heighten the traditional worry that emergence entails illegitimately getting something from nothing.”[8]

    • donsleeter

      I don’t believe “novelty” has anything to do with jobs-to-be-done. Novelty is an attention getter.

    • stefnagel

      When I was a young guy, we used to go to novelty stores Dank, sad places, run by old guys.

  • obarthelemy

    I’m a bit confused:

    1- Using patentability or patentedness as a litmus test for “invention” seems flaky, especially if the reference is the US patent system and its huge disregard for prior art.

    2- how can an innovation be “unprotectable”, and at the same time require at least one invention, which by your own definition has to be patent-ed or -able ?

    • patentable

      The article you are responding to doesn’t say an invention has to be patented or patentable.

      • obarthelemy

        “Inventions: Anything described by a patent;…”

    • or even released, to qualify as innovations.

      easy — because if it isnt ever released, we’d just have to take your word for it.

      • obarthelemy

        ever heard of demos ? or product failures ?

    • The failure of the US patent system is mostly in execution. They do not intentionally disregard prior art or obviousness. The problem is that it is often very difficult with the limited resources available to a patent examiner, to extensively search for prior art unless it is in a database of some sort. The concept of “Invention” is well defined in the concept of a patent, in my opinion.

      At least, much better defined than how the word “Innovation” is misused.

      • obarthelemy

        You’re very right.

        But in practice, making patents the criteria for invention does assume patents are working, which they are not in the US.

        Probably by design too, with lawmakers (who are disproportionately lawyers, and thirsty for money) tweaking the system so that it works for corps (big campaign contributors) and makes work for fellow lawyers. But that’s another discussion.

  • actualbanker

    This is great. A good as Drucker. Clear, precise, worth reading again and again.

  • stefnagel

    Renovations? Might need one more term for innovations that create pivot points, points at which an industry falls in line behind one invention. E.g., all smart phones copy the iPhone; all tablets, the iPad … the Mac OS, the App Store. Appellations?

  • To apply a market litmus test to innovation is to say that marketeers have co-opted the term. To apply a framework of market acceptance or IP status to anything that has a natural maturity life cycle (problem/hypothesis, ideation, proof of concept, iteration, formalization, release, etc) is silly and short-sighted. (Open-source? Social media?)

    Innovation is a useful catch-all term that captures all of the above notions. While you have coined a new term, it is misapplied. Society does not understand the role of innovation as it relates to them. True; however, societies still battle fundamental problems because of focus and power structures; not because of a lack of understanding of the importance of them.

    The gap is in the lack of understanding of the potential application for a particular society when coupled with current power structures and focus. This applies to literacy rates, nutrition, education, and all other areas where there is a perceived dislocation.

    To me, you have innoveracy, an affliction as of yet, undefined.

  • stefnagel

    Question: Does success today presume that an organization is intended to be immortal? To beat the bell curve? Why? Corporations, like Congressmen, need term limits.

  • twangisKhan

    I have often said that Apple steals ideas. Microsoft, Google, Samsung steal products.

    Using Horace’s definition, I would think that Apple steals creations, while Microsoft, Google, Samsung steal innovations.

    Still all this talk leads me wanting. A single creation does to beget a single invention. Nor does a single invention beget a single innovation, despite the serial explanation above.

    Innovation seems to me a combination of several creations (or even inventions). Several creations (even ones well established and understood) can be combined and organized with other creations to create a single innovation.

    But what the hell do I know? I’m innoverant.

    • arrow2010

      Exactly. Every idiot tech writer should have that tattooed on their eyelids.

  • mbotta

    the wheel had no market, yet it was innovative. so was the ability to control fire.

    market impact is a proxy for societal impact. it’s a sign of the times that we reduce society to the market.

    otherwise, interesting thoughts as always.

    • LAN8

      Are you kidding? The wheel and fire both had HUGE markets (as they are both used universally among humans now). Wheels (and water travel before them) allowed kingdoms to form, transforming the human landscape (and quite literally the earth’s landscape as well). Fire use probably predates “humans” (we think Neaderthals used it, arguably they are not human, although they are simian) and probably provided the high nutrient value to our food that transformed our brains into the powerhouses they are. If that isn’t a “market imapact” then I don’t know what is.

      • MDR

        I guess you didn’t read mbotta’s next paragraph. He/she said “market impact is a proxy for societal impact”. If you don’t know what proxy means, you can use “stands for” in its place.

        When the wheel and the ability to control fire were discovered, there was no market. Capitalism didn’t exist as it does today. The societal impact of these discoveries was obviously immense. That’s what mbotta was saying.

      • LAN8

        Don’t be stupid, a) yes I know what proxy means, b) capitalism isn’t the only structure that creates “markets”. Fucking morons, thinking capitalism is the ONLY way to have a market or market forces. For god sakes man, there has ALWAYS been a market anytime scarcity meets demand, it just hasn’t always been structured in the way it is today (which is completely fucked up by huge goverment subsidies to corporations, import/export taxation, patents, transportation laws and levies, pollution controls, etc. – interestingly unions do NOT fuck up markets, they are simply the countervaliling market force of labor’s input). Hell, there were huge markets in the 15-1600’s in France which was definitely under Feudalism at the time. They included banks, labor unrest, taxes, etc.)

        My point was that he was using the word “market” wrong.

      • LAN8

        Oh, and by the way, I’m all for pollution controls. Sometimes the market needs to be reigned in. It’s still a distortion of the pure market, which we don’t have (and probably it’s 15-1600’s counterpart was closer too).

      • MDR

        This is funny. And I don’t think you do know what proxy means.

        Try to step away from your stupid Internet discussion rage and think about what you are saying. Why is there scarcity for fire? Don’t answer that, just try to think about it. If you do answer, I won’t waste my time responding again.

      • LAN8

        Good, you’re clearly an idiot not worth having a discussion with, go back to school and learn something. I do have an answer that immediately comes to mind. Such as, why did fire spread so rapidly and thoroughly in the achealogical record? Have you even ever hunted, camped in (real) wilderness) or lived on a farm without electricity? I have, trust me, fire (and keeping it) is a little more difficult than you think if you eliminate gas lines, matches, an axe to cut wood – none of which existed early on, to say nothing of the hazard of rain or the fire getting out of control. You live in an easy world my friend, and because of that can’t even imagine the privation some people in the world still must deal with. That explanation is NOT for you, it’s for anyone else who’s reading.

      • MDR

        Fire is in demand, yes, but it needn’t be scarce. Fire may be hard for you to maintain, but for experienced campers, such as myself, it is quite easy.

        I’ve been to school, you see. I’ve got a degree in anthropology. I know more than a little about this subject. Fire maintenance isn’t as hard as you seem to think. In fact, hominids almost certainly tended fires long before anyone knew how to make fire.

        And yes, I know I said I wasn’t going to respond anymore, but it’s hard to stop myself from trying to educate the ignorant.

      • LAN8

        I’m not sure why I’m bothering but fire was scarce to begin with.

        Imagine you’re in Africa 1,00,000 years ago, somewhere near the Olduvai Gorge perhaps. There’s a LOT of brush, fires regularly get out of control in the dry seasons (that doesn’t mean it isn’t cold at night for a hairless ape). Rhinos, smelling fire have an instinctive need to stamp them out, and will gore you if you get in their way. Fire at this time may only have been available through lighting stikes (there’s no direct evidence that they banked fires, although they probably did if they understood how). You might have a stone axe (which took a long time to make, patiently chipping it away – I did that once with obsidian as an experiment, sharp as hell too nearly cut my damn finger off), you might have flint. It’s still something likely the tribe does as a whole, not the individual. As you move campsites someone has to carry the coals, a torch or have flint to spark a new fires. What did they carry the coals in? Sand filled baskets maybe, not much evidence of weaving but could easily have just rotted out of the existing record.

        Let’s go forward, you’re in medieval France, a villein/sef, your lord only allows you to cut a certain amount of wood, you have to make do or use leaves, grasses, etc. for a very smoky fire. If you disobey your lord you loose a hand or your head, life is cheaper than wood at this point.

        Today, fire is both easy to make and fairly easy to maintain. I don’t know any experienced camper who doesn’t probably have a gas canister stove of one type or another, at least so firestarted matches or something like that. It’s easy to find ways to bank fires today but we live in North American, not much of a rainy season like Southeast Asia, so we don’t worry about that much.

        Just because shit is easy now does not mean it was easy then, when even a handaxe tied to a stick with leather strips or some kind of plant/grass binding that would’ve made it hard to maintain/expensive. Look there’s a whole study I read once about the relative price of lighting. A full lamp of oil cost about 1 month’s wages in ancient Ur, later a set of 2 dipped candles is about a week’s wages in 1400’s France, a lightbulb is a day’s wages in the early 1800’s, now it’s a few minutes wages at most (and it’s probably LED or CFL so it lasts longer too. This is CLEARLY the market at work. Pressing olives or waiting for oil to bubble from the ground somewhere is more labor intensive than some industrial process that can produce 100’s of millions of bulbs per year. Now who’s ignorant you asshole?

      • MDR

        You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re embarrassing yourself. It’s funny. Please continue.

      • LAN8

        You are embarrassing yourself because you lack a counter-argument and are therefor just a troll.

      • charly

        Markets only exist when you have many suppliers and consumers. So 100.000 years ago in the Olduvai Gorge you did not have markets.

      • LAN8

        Markets can exist with one supplier and many consumers (monopoly), one consumer and many suppliers (monosomy), or a combination of consumers and supplier (typical market). They do not depend on “many”, they depend on supply and demand.

        Monsanto has a large market of farmers that buy it’s products (priced to make sure the farmers are locked in ever after), The US government has many suppliers for it’s various military programs, but its the only one buying tanks (legally) – so it’s a monosomy. A small village (of say 100 people) still needs basic necessities so maybe it doesn’t have any chain stores but it might have a general store selling basic goods of all kinds, from underwear to canned goods – try far north in Alaska or the Yukon Territories for this setup. Tribes might have a “big man” system instead, where all goods are given as tribute to the headman of a villiage (try Borneo for this approach) and in turn he gives “gifts” out to everybody by way of feasts, special presents (such as a machete or beads), etc. This is more like a communal approach but a “market” still exists, it’s still an exchanges of goods and services (i.e. he gives the machete to the best hunter who will then use it to kill a wild boar which goes back to the chief who distributes it to the tribe at a feast).

        You need to expand your definition of what a market is.

      • charly

        Markets with one consumer or supplier are not markets in the sense of the free market theory.

      • LAN8

        There is no “free” market, never was, never will be. It’s a fantasy waved in front of the gullible to distract from oligarchic monopolies, monopsonies and distorted real markets that have all actually existed since the beginning.

      • LAN8

        Oh, and by the way the site at Olduvai contains thousands of remains, not all from the same period (it may have been used, abandoned, found again and reused or maybe always been inhabited but the population changed because it was captured in war, who knows? We do know the technology there changes over time and becomes more sophisticated.

      • charly

        I was not clear enough. You didn’t have markets because the number of people you interacted was to small and the relationship with them was to strong. You simply can not have a market relationship with your brother, let alone your wife.

      • LAN8

        There were hundreds of remains over centuries of time (and it’s not clear everyone who died there was everyone who was there either, in fact for certain materials like flint it’s clear someone either visited or someone there travelled). So we’re not talking a husband/wife or brother/sister relationship only. We’re talking cousins at the least and probbaly outside tribes visiting and leaving a member (if they has the instinct not to intermarry with your family the rest of us do).

      • Pica Neim

        You are confusing “capitalist competitive market” with “market”. It’s a much broader term. I suspect LAN8 to be an economist.

    • obarthelemy


  • Comment Zilla

    Sounds a good test for use by the patent office… “A design, sketch or verbal description might be novel but it does not qualify as an innovation or an invention or even a creation.”

  • Guesto

    Using a translated article as an argument for the misuse of English language terms is a bit… something.

  • Comment Zilla

    I like the concept but just about any new product could be considered “innovative” by that definition. It’s really more about the degree or intensity of innovation as all innovations, inventions, creations and novelties evolve from some form of prior art.

    Maybe another ring is needed beyond “innovation”, such as “revolutionary” or in the words of Steve Jobs “magical”? In other words the product changes the way we live, work and think, as to overthrow a previous paradigm.

    In this light a product like the iPhone/iPad is not new, valuable, unique and useful solely of itself as device, rather it was revolutionary in it’s implementation as a PC replacement by centering it on content consumption and rather than content creation?

    Before the iPhone/iPad everyone had been trying to shoehorn the PC into tablets and phones and it was by minimizing the PCs primary role as a content creation tool that it exceeded the PC as a tool for content consumption.

    In that sense these were revolutionary products that required vision to create.

    Unfortunately, a vision is practical impossible to patent and even though Samsung has been a profitable copycat, it certainly has not benefited from this paradigm-shift in the way that Apple has, because Apple’s vertical integration of hardware, software and services into a self-contained eco-system allows them to tap the greatest rewards in way their competitors never can, unless of course, they decide to change their business model.

    “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” – Steve Jobs

    “I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks. But as people moved more towards urban centers, people started to get into cars. I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them. And this transformation is going to make some people uneasy… because the PC has taken us a long way. They were amazing. But it changes. Vested interests are going to change. And, I think we’ve embarked on that change. Is it the iPad? Who knows? Will it be next year or five years? … We like to talk about the post-PC era, but when it really starts to happen, it’s uncomfortable.” – Steve Jobs

  • Many people forget that there’s significant innovation through usage.

    Technological appropriation is a fascinating field which requires a shift in mindframe.

  • Very helpful, the circles’ sizes illustrating effort and reward.

    Thanks for the footnote invoking the mental exercise of “Venning” the illustration and reversing the circles’ sequencing — making the largest circle the smallest and the smallest circle the largest. A Venn diagram makes clear novelty is easy, novelty with creation is harder, novelty with creation and invention harder still, and novelty with creation, invention, and innovation hardest of all.

  • Zono

    I’m dumbfounded by your graphic. Shouldn’t that be “Utility” instead of “Unique”?
    Anything new is unique…

    • DesDizzy

      I agree with you on this. The word “utility” is a more accurate word in this economic context than “useful”. But maybe that is just a function of using English english!

  • Bram Stolk

    I may have trouble understanding innovation, but the author has trouble understanding Venn diagrams and taxonomies.

    • “The size of the circles also suggests degree of effort required and potential reward. Note that this is not a Venn diagram.”

      • Matt A

        It’s a little too easy to read it as one, though. On the one hand, you can read it as: an innovation has to be useful, unique, valuable, AND new (the circle represents an and relationship) because the innovation circle contains the other three. That sounds true. However, if you read it that way, you can also read it the opposite way: a novelty is a creation, an invention, and an innovation because its area overlaps with all three circles. The use of circles, overlapping areas, and two labels is creating ambiguity that the article copy needs to clarify. It’s not all that hard to tease out the meaning, but there’s perhaps more friction than there should be.

        The idea itself is cool, but the graph design could use some work.

      • Absolutely.

      • David

        I agree. I think it would make more sense if the labels were reversed with innovation being in the smallest circle.

      • Zach

        Agreed. In that the ‘not a venn’ disclaimer is at the very end of the article, I was busy mentally mapping things venn-style while reading the article and trying to decide whether or not the overlay applied.

        Also agree with stormchild above that innoveracy is a very awk-word.

  • Vlad

    “The fact that the Nokia tablet of 2001 not only did not succeed in the market but was not even released implies that it could not have been innovative.”

    Not necessarily. It could’ve been mere misunderstanding of its usefulness. The post is a very interesting exercise in semantics, but the above definitions seem to confuse more than clarify, so it seems incomplete.

  • stormchild

    Wouldn’t the word for an _in_ability to understand _in_novation have a double-‘in’? Either way, ‘innoveracy’ is awk-word; doesn’t really work.

    • SubstrateUndertow


      “Innovation Literacy”

      offer more immediate and universal apprehension ?

      • Paul Tucker

        Apprehension: “Anxiety or fear that something bad or unpleasant will happen.”

        Comprehension: “The action or capability of understanding something.”

  • stefnagel

    Why not simply load up the idea of innovation up with all the necessary attributes? Yes, new, valuable, unique, useful. And also significant. And predominant. And pivotal, meaning that what follows falls in line behind the innovation. Think iPhone.

  • patricknew

    there are many examples of innovations that were not considered useful or valuable when first introduced.

    why not keep it simple:

    an innovation is a something newly introduced (product, process, service), the true value of which may not be immediately apparent.

    the value is not necessarily in the novelty, nor does it necessarily fill an existing need. often the context in which they are introduced needs to change for the innovations true value to be recognized.

  • ProductDude

    “Innoveracy” as a term, not even novel. I will forget it by tomorrow. The rest of the article was quite interesting.

  • Hosni

    The circles used to illustrate novelty, creation, inventions and innovations were labeled in exactly the wrong order. Novelty should point to the biggest circle, because novelty is common and a low-level of achievement. Innovation should point to the small circle, because it is rare and a higher-level achievement. I assume the circles were an artistic flourish, but the graphic could also have been used to illustrate the point made by the discussion.

    • Max

      I’m glad this was the first comment when I got to the end of the article. Was bothering me the whole time. I get that the article is trying to clear up ideas around what innovation is but maybe the world should solve its math/logic illiteracy before it’s innoveracy. It’s called a Venn Diagram, look it up.

  • I, too, could make up new definitions for words and then claim people who are using them in accordance with traditional/accepted definitions are ignorant and using them wrong. But that would be silly.

  • The idea of the new word to make “Innovation” fit properly makes sense, but I’m having a hard time remembering it. Something simpler (thought I’m not sure what) would be easier to implement once people remember it. Other than that, I loved the article and it’s relevancy to my question about innovation.

  • Jerry Leichter

    The discussion of the path by which new ideas may (or may not) become market successes is of great interest, but the complaint about the use of the word “innovation” is off base. The word goes back to the 15th century, and one *dictionary* definition is: “[T]he introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device : novelty”. It may well be the case that in certain technical fields of discourse, the word has taken on a technical meaning (like, say, “work” in physics or “income” in accounting); but that hasn’t come close to displacing the “plain English” use of the word. Claiming that only the technical meaning – and not just of “innovation” but of at least “invention” and perhaps of the other two words as well – is legitimate closes off discourse.

    In particular, what’s patentable is subject to highly complex and technical laws that vary across time and space. To tie “invention” to “able to be patented” means that only lawyers can even begin to judge whether something is an “invention”. If you want to say “patentable” – say “patentable”!

    But tying “innovation” to “success in the market” is an even worse sin. Market success depends on many factors. Impact on the world isn’t even tied to success in the market. Pet rocks were a big market success at one time. One could even argue that the notion of selling rocks to consumers as “pets” was clearly new, novel, and unique; and if you believe the basic capitalist assumption that it’s the market that determines value, then it was clearly valuable – but it had no impact of any significance. The US Constitution was new, valuable, novel, and unique and has had immense impact on the entire world, but it hasn’t earned anyone market success.

    Every field is entitled to develop its own technical language and its own classifications. A common problem, though, is introducing classifications and special words for those classifications that don’t actually add to the discussion, but simply make it obscure to outsiders. That there are (at least) four distinguishable steps a new idea must go through from the thought in someone’s head to market success (is “impact on the world” a fifth step, or a separate measure?) is a useful analysis. Do we actually need to come up with different words for each – especially when the dictionary definition above *explicitly holds out the words chosen for the first and the last steps as synonyms”?

    — Jerry

    • Andrew B Schultz

      Nice analysis.

  • Shawn Dehkhodaei

    Horace, a great article as always. However, I disagree with one concept (Paragraph 11 or 12), where you mention that innovation has the highest reward …

    I suppose speaking purely, it might. But then where does that put the Microsoft of the 90’s, and today’s Samsung Mobile? They’re sure being rewarded, but they’re the furthest thing from innovative.

    Specifically, Microsoft in the 80’s and 90’s had no “product” innovation, but a slimy, back-handed and corrupt sales model, which made them succeed and therefore rich.

    Samsung Mobile has had no innovation from the start …. it’s either been copying Nokia, Motorola or Apple at different junctures, and yet they’re being rewarded, and they also make grandiose claims about innovation (for increasing screen size on a phone) ….. yet the rewards keep coming.

    I think your theorem requires a corollary, where reward should be separated from innovation.

    Another counter example is Apple’s Newton, which was immensely innovative, but lacked market success, and perhaps the Palm Pre in its own way (they had the only serious competitor to the iPhone).

  • Ricardo dos Santos
  • Andrew B Schultz

    One weakness of this framework you’ve created is that it incorrectly correlates market success with innovation. Things succeed in the market without being innovative, and things are innovative without succeeding in the market. When you argued that the Nokia Web Tablet couldn’t possibly have been innovative because they never released it, it seems that by that point you had spent too much time inside the argument; that you were misled by an infatuation with your own logic. Good subject for discussion, however.

  • Bill B.

    What does “uniquely useful” mean?

    • Useful as nothing else. In other words, useful and difficult to copy.

  • Rick

    This is partially echoing stormchild’s earlier comment, but the first 3 paragraphs of this article are a bit messed up linguistically. Literacy is the ability to read and write. Numeracy is the ability to use simple concepts of number. Thus, by analogy, innovacy (or innoveracy, if you prefer) is the ABILITY to understand innovation.